Montalbano’s World

It’s been a very busy Summer so far for us all at CLC HQ! For our next theme on ‘Countries and Continents’ we are looking at the continent of Europe and the beautiful country of Italy which has such a rich variety of culture. For the first blog post I will be looking at the stories of Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri and the common themes that are found throughout this body of work. The series of books has been adapted into an excellent series of television episodes (which I’ve no doubt mentioned before!). Camilleri apparently wrote the last novel before he finished some of the other final stories and I’m really excited to find out what the overall grand finale will be!

The Montalbano stories can be largely split into ‘micro narratives’ (those that involve personal stories relating to a family or small community) and the ‘macro narratives’ (the stories that are much larger and involve wider criminal activities such as the Mafia, drugs, other countries and people trafficking etc). Across both kinds of narrative we can see common themes that can be used to bind the overarching story together.

The Sea

The Inspector Montalbano books are set in the beautiful island of Sicily where my friend Yvonne has been lucky enough to spend the Summer! The sea is of course ever present in the Montalbano stories; he lives in the seaside town of Marinella and had a gorgeous flat that looks right out onto a beach where he regularly dines al fresco. The sea itself is a dual signifier of peacefulness and respite but also represents threat. Montalbano regularly swims in the sea to exercise, ease his frustrations and think about his cases but the sea is also threatening not so much in the case of storms but from criminal activity and access. Criminals in the stories frequently use the sea in the stories to access the land whether in the form of smuggling drugs (or people) or to hide murdered  bodies. The ever lurking threat of the sea is particularly featured in some of the more bigger complex cases involving the Mafia. The sea is used to transport refugees from north Africa as seen in the pivotal tale The Snack Thief (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) The Age of Doubt (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) and Rounding the Mark (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries) are also good examples of stories that heavily feature the sea.

The Mafia

What’s great about the Montalbano stories is that Camilleri has stated that he believes that the Mafia should not be glamorised like they are in the American gangster films but that they should be represented more accurately. Camilleri wanted to provide a more realistic representation of the mafia in Sicily which is the fact that they are ever present behind the scenes in everyday life. The mafia have infiltrated many of the bureaucratic processes in Sicily and are as present in paperwork as they are in more exciting criminal activities. In Montalbano’s world the two local Mafia families are the Sinagras and the Cuffaros. There is a contrast between the more ruthless younger members of these clans and the elder ones who stick to a more traditional code of honour. When Montalbano deals with the elder ones or their representatives the conversation often takes the form of an allegorical tale which needs to be deciphered. An example of some of the stories in which the Mafia feature are The Dance Of The Seagull (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) The Potter’s Field (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries) and Excursion to Tindari (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)

Food

Food is a huge part of the stories and features in every one! Italy has a rich history of fine cuisine and in the region of Sicily as it is an island the speciality foods are mainly seafood based which Montalbano adores. Sicily is also known for special regional delicacies such as cakes and sweets. Montalbano relies on his housekeeper Adelina to cook him delicious food which he savours. A common signifier (especially on the television programmes) is for Montalbano to begin to it down to eat his delicious dinner and then the phone always rings! When you see him sit down to eat food at his house you know that he will soon be interrupted! Montalbano is also very particular about what he sees as the scared ritual of eating so when dines in company he always states that he likes to eat without talking but instead talk afterwards. Calogero’s restaurant was his favourite lunch spot at the start of the series but when Calogero retires he discovers Enzo’s a seafood trattoria with a beautiful seafront view!

Comedy

Camilleri was a theatre director before he began the Montalbano stories and this influence can mainly be seen in the Commedia Dell’arte theatre tradition that has been updated and transferred into the Montalbano stories, mostly to add moments of comedy. The Commedia Dell’arte was a traditional early form Italian theatre that combined comedy, pantomime and stock characters in a variety of different stories. In the Montalbano stories we have the figure of Catarella who is representative of the commedia clown, the ‘lazzi’ foolish figure who uses physical theatre to provide comic moments to the narrative. This can be seen throughout the various stories when Catarella slips on Montalbano’s door and frequently mispronounces names of callers to the police station (which is a problem when he is the main one manning the switchboard!). Montalbano at first is quite angry with Catarella but as he ages he finds himself growing fond of him. Catarella also at times helps Montalbano solve actual cases! Another figure perhaps lifted from the Commedia Dell’Arte is Mimi Augello, Montalbano’s deputy who is a total lothario and often ends up in scrapes due to his bed-hopping nature! The Commedia Dell’arte also contains the stock figures of the lovers or the ‘innamorati’ who are characters in love who face obstacles from actually getting together permanently. This can be seen in the figures of Montalbano and his partner Livia (who lives far away in the northern Italian region of Genoa. Montalbano is also himself a figure of comedy at times mostly due to his paranoia about ageing and his ongoing mid-life crisis. An escalation of this crisis and issues with Livia can be seen in August Heat (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) and The Track of Sand (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)

The Media

The regional media feature a number of times throughout the series of Montalbano stories. When the stories were first written, Silvio Berlusconi was the Centre Right Prime Minister of Italy and a powerful media tycoon. Camilleri is left leaning politically and during Berlusconi’s leadership you get the impression that this was a difficult time for those of a left leaning disposition. Berlusconi through his company Mediaset owned a number of national television channels which were often populist. The stories of Montalbano reference this despair that he feels through the antagonistic and popular TV channel Televigata which features an aggressive, opinionated presenter who personally dislikes Montalbano and frequently disparages him on television. The only ally that Montalbano has in the media is Zito a respected journalist on The Free Channel who helps him from time to time with appeals for his cases. Camilleri also uses real-life stories that he reads in newspapers to inspire some of his books. A series of unusual real-life robberies inspired the story of Angelica’s Smile (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)

These are just a few of the common themes that appear throughout the Montalbano stories, but there are also many others! I highly recommend if you haven’t read or watched the Montalbano stories that you do so, then you may become as much of a fan as I am!

 

Contemporary US Fiction for Teens

For this blog post I wanted to share two novels and a film adaptation that I have recently enjoyed that are recent representations of US culture for teens and young adults.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park is a book about a girl: Eleanor, who lives in a house hold with four other siblings, her mother and abusive dad. She doesn’t own necessities such as a toothbrush or proper clothes so she is often bullied for this. It’s also about a boy: Park, a boy who comes from a loving family but thinks of himself as a disappointment. He stands up for Eleanor and wants to become her boyfriend but as Eleanor’s abusive father won’t let her have a boyfriend they are seeing each other secretly. I am reading this book at the moment and would definitely recommend it!

About the Author: Rainbow Rowell (born February 24, 1973) is an American author of young adult and adult contemporary novels. Her young adult novels Eleanor & Park (2013) Fangirl (2013) and Carry On (2015) have been highly recommended!

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by popular young adult author John Green, is about a sixteen year-old girl called Hazel Grace Lancaster who lives in the USA. She has cancer that has spread to her lungs and believes that her whole life will consist solely of hospital appointments and therapy from then on. One day her mother signs her up for a cancer patient support group, Hazel is mortified and thinks this is the new, worst thing in her life.

At the group she meets a seventeen year-old boy, Augustus Waters (who lost one of his legs to cancer). Augustus is there to support his friend Isaac (whose remaining eye is to be removed due to cancer). Hazel and Augustus immediately bond and decide to swap novels, Hazel recommends to Augustus a book about a girl with cancer whose life is similar to hers written by a Dutch author called Van Houten who disappeared after the novel’s publication. Augustus is horrified to realise that the book that Hazel recommended ended abruptly and decides to try and track down the author’s personal assistant and starts up an on-going conversation via E-mail.

A year later he surprises Hazel with tickets to Amsterdam where he confesses his love for Hazel. Hazel and Augustus meet Van Houten but are disappointed with his selfish behaviour. Augustus also confesses a secret to Hazel which propels the novel to it’s tearful ending! I enjoyed both the book and the film adaptation of the story and would recommend (though not if you need cheering up!).

 

Broken River Book Review

We have been crazy  busy already at the start of this Summer and look to being busy right up into Autumn too!

I (Jo) have been doing lots of creative writing which is published from time to time on  Yorkshire Writers Lunch Blog and from where you can read lots of other interesting stories and poems from other member of the Yorkshire Writers Lunch Group.

I have also received a very large reading list for the holidays! This is comprised of a combination of virtual and paper publications which are currently and will keep her very busy in the near future! Season 3 of Poldark is on now, Marvel’s The Defendants begins in August on Netflix and Season 3 of Outlander starts in September! So there’s also lots of TV to be catching up with also!

As for the others at CLC towers; Kyle is currently on a Summer work placement, Ross has been busy at work and college and Grace has many concerts and workshops right up to when school finishes and beyond! Phew! So as you can see, it’s been pretty hard to get posts done as well but I wanted to talk briefly about a book that I recently read called Broken River.

Broken River

Broken River: The most suspense-filled, inventive thriller you’ll read this year by J. Robert Lennon is a fascinating book. It is part gothic thriller, part detective fiction, reminiscent in places of Johnathan Franzen’s epic family based stories. It tells the story of an deserted house in the small town of ‘Broken River’ in upstate New York.

A tragedy occurred there twelve years ago where a man and his wife were murdered and their bodies never discovered. They had a young daughter who escaped the atrocity and mysteriously disappeared.

Twelve years later Karl (a sculptor), his novelist wife Eleanor and their twelve year old daughter Irina move into the property. Ostensibly the move was to get Karl away from the temptation of New York City as he had been serially unfaithful to Eleanor, but Karl is not a likeable character and problems seem to follow the family wherever they go. Eleanor also has secrets of her own as does their daughter Irina. When Eleanor and Irina become obsessed with the past events that occurred on their property then they open up a whole Pandora’s box of trouble!

The story is told from multiple viewpoints (Karl, Eleanor and Irina’s) but also new characters in Broken River itself such as Louis a man who may have been involved in the past murders and most intriguingly a omnipresent observer who can follow different characters around and appears to be incorporeal, without body like a ghost. This is not an easy read but it pushes the boundaries of fiction and is definitely one to try as it makes you think.

 

Horticultural Gems of North America

North America, with a diverse range of environments and climate zones it makes a wonderful place to see and discover all manner of different plants. One plant family in particular, the Cactaceae (Cacti) family is endemic to the Americas.

For many years exotic gardening enthusiasts in temperate climates have long searched for hardy cacti and succulents. One highly recommended cacti for temperate gardens is the Opuntia Polyacantha, known commonly as the plains prickly pear, it is found naturally on the great plains and prairies of the US and Canada. Given the harsh continental climate with ragingly hot summers and bitterly cold winters it fares well in a temperate climate winter.

Opuntia Polyacantha

Another gem from North America is the Echinacea Purpurea, with its bold flowerheads it has become a firm favourite in the cottage garden. It is fairly easy to grow and prefers a freely draining site. It has been given recognition from the RHS as being perfect for pollinating insects

Echinacea Purpurea

Californian Lilac (Ceanothus) is a much loved and commonly used garden shrub in the UK. It has lovely clusters of electric blue, honey scented flowers in the spring time. It is an evergreen and has small dark green leaves and stems the year round. It attracts lots of bees and is generally a fast growing but relatively short lived shrub.

Ceanothus in Bloom

Obviously this is merely a minute selection of all the wonderful plants that originate from North America but they are certainly gems and highly recommended for temperate gardens.

Comics’ Kickass Women

To continue with our theme of the US, something that the US has gifted us is comics and comic book characters such as superheroes. I wanted to take a little bit of time to explore some of these and their recent representation on film and TV. Most of these series (apart from Wonder Woman) are available on Netflix and some are available on DVD if you don’t have a Netflix subscription. Currently the Iron Fist and Luke Cage are not available on DVD so I’ve included the original comic book version.

Wonder Woman

The recent film phenomenon Wonder Woman [4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Download] [2017] by DC has got me thinking. It has earned rave reviews for its feminist take on the superhero genre and for the fact that the lead Gal Gadot was pregnant when it was filmed. I haven’t watched it myself yet but hope that the premise lives up to the hype generated. It has been extremely successful financially also which kind of blows the predominant theory that films have to be extremely macho to make a return.

I’ve recently been catching up with some of the Marvel series on Netflix and have been pleasantly surprised with the strength of the female characters included.

Jessica Jones

The most obvious Marvel series is Marvel’s Jessica Jones Season 1 [DVD] [2016] which I have already raved about in a previous post. The titular character a private detective and reluctant superhero is strong but damaged and relies on other strong females in her life to help her at time such as her best friend Trish Walker and lawyer Jeri Hogarth. She does have like most superheroes and private eyes, flaws. She is an alcoholic plagued by demons from her past, but ultimately she is good and usually does the right thing.

Colleen Wing in Iron Fist

I love the Immortal Iron Fist: The Complete Collection Volume 1 series. It was slower to start than the other Marvel series but a few episodes in it gets great. The titular character Iron Fist / Danny Rand is male but he frequently relies on and seeks help from Collen Wing (a kick ass martial arts instructor) and Claire Temple (a nurse who is also good at martial arts and features in all of the Netflix Marvel series so far). Colleen is determined, capable and at times stubborn character who has to learn to trust others more and [Spoiler alert!] grows close to Danny. Collen fights men just as easily as women which is a nice contrast from older representations of female fighters in the action genre who usually had girl fights only. Colleen, like Jessica Jones is ultimately a survivor. Joy Meachum, another female character is a strong businesswoman and Danny Rand’s childhood friend though she has questionable motives at times on an ethical level.

Claire Temple in Daredevil

Marvel’s Daredevil [DVD] was the original Marvel series on Netflix and now has two season on which to binge. I have just started Season 1 so can’t comment much on it but I can already see that it features strong female characters. I was glad to see the actress Pamela Ann Woll (who played Jessica the vampire in True Blood) featuring in a lead role and also nurse Claire Temple played by Rosario Dawson who stars for the first time in this role. Although Daredevil / Matt Murdock is a male role, I can see him leaning on these female characters for support. A strong adversary Madame Gao (leader of The Hand – a villainous organisation) also stars for the first time and then appears menacingly later on in Iron Fist.

Misty Knight in Luke Cage

I’ve not watched many of the episodes of Luke Cage: Avenger yet so have to catch up. For me, so far this series has more of a masculine presence probably because Mike Colter seems to inhabit the titular character so well so the focus is naturally on him more. It is good however to see female cop Misty Knight featuring who has a strong sense of political justice and believes in the system, we also see nurse Claire Temple featuring once again.

All in all, it is great to see that there are many strong female characters appearing in these superhero dramas and that the female role is not just reduced to a helpless character waiting to be rescued a la Fay Wray! Long may the strong female role in these dramas continue to be created and performed for many years to come.