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Second attempt at a blog and back up of my old account, ferningur.
Now that I have finished the first part of the book (there are seven of them), it’s time to write down some thoughts, if only because the book is turning out a bit more difficult and complex than I would have imagined.
This is the second book from Ortese that I’ve read, the first being “Il mare non bagna Napoli” (literally, “The sea doesn’t touch Naples”, although there are two official editions of the book in English with completely different titles – “Neapolitan Chronicles” and “Evening descends upon the hills”, respectively). The biggest difference between them is the prose, which is much more straightforward and simple in IMNBN.
“Il cardillo addolorato”, on the other hand, not only has a more flowery prose – which is fitting, given how the story has the feel of a fairy tale – but the way the narrator speaks to the Reader (written with a capital letter because that’s how the narrator writes it every single time) at times is seriously overwrought. At some points it gave me the impression that Ortese had just recoded herself while telling the story, then given the tapes to her secretary to transcribe them and do some clean up, but only did the first part of it. I’ve gone through at least two paragraphs where the narrator started talking about a character, did a bit aside to mention the environment, came back to the character, then the narrator spoke directly to the Reader to make a personal note or joke, and then (finally) back to talking about the character.
While the story itself isn’t too complex (and, if I can make a guess, I definitely don’t think it’s going to reach “War and Peace” levels) the prose makes it a bit of a challenge to keep focused. So far the plot is about a group of three Belgian men (prince Ingmar Neville, sculptor Albert Dupré and businessman Alphonse Nodier) go to Neaples for a business and pleasure trip – possibly as a stop during a Grand Tour. During a night stop to a house owned by a friend of Nodier, Dupré falls in love with Elmina, a beautiful young woman who, however, seems to have a weird detachment from things, to the point she very casually admits of having let a linnet die of starvation and thirst just the previous day. Despite that, and despite Neville’s attempts at putting obstacles between us because of his love for him (yes, and it’s pretty much treated as a love triangle) and hatred for Elmina, in the end the marriage is celebrated, and Neville goes back to live in Belgium. The first part of the book even ends with some sort of epilogue, to point out that this is definitely the last we’ll see of the prince.
As for the titular linnet, so far we’ve met three of them, two real and a mechanical one – the one that Elmina let starve to death, and another one that is mentioned during some expository dialogue, which was also killed by Elmina when she was a kid out of hatred for her younger sister. The mechanical one is a very elaborated music box that Neville sends to Dupré as a morbid joke, after the latter learn about the second bird killed by Elmina.
Also, I get the feeling that Dupré himself is going to be another, metaphorical suffering linnet, given Elmina’s character. While, through another character, we’re given an explanation as to why she did kill the first linnet to spite her sister, and while Dupré is actually convinced by that explanation (Elmina couldn’t stand seeing her sickly, possibly mentally challenged, young sister and her pet), there’s a lot about her detached behaviour that’s one huge red flag. Let’s just say that if she does turn out to be a calm character with little bearing on the story, I’ll definitely be surprised.
And finally, there’s a famous Neapolitan song from the 18th century, called “Lu cardillo” (The linnet) about unrequited love. I’ll talk about it more in another post (there are quite a few things about the metaphorical meanings of the linnet in Neapolitan culture, and not being Neapolitan myself I want to do some more thorough research on it), but that does feel like a pretty obvious indication of what the story might be about, and why linnets comes up so many times. We’ll see.