A rainy day, a slippery street. A skidding car collides with a motor scooter ridden by Angela, a fifteen-year-old girl. Gravely injured, she’s brought to the hospital where her father, Timoteo, is a surgeon. As his daughter lies near death, the handsome, cultivated, eminently respectable Timoteo unpacks a sordid burden of sin and guilt he has long borne in silence.
Fraught with sexual obsession, degradation, and devotion, his confession is the tale of a man who for his whole life has been “afraid to live”—with one passionate exception. Silently addressing Angela, Timoteo bares his soul, and the events of the year before her birth open like a wound.
As Timoteo’s tale begins, he’s driving from the city to the beach house where his beautiful, accomplished wife, Elsa, is waiting for him. Car trouble forces him to make a detour into a dingy suburb, and there he meets Italia—unbeautiful, unpolished, working-class—who awakens a part of him he scarcely recognizes. Disenchanted with his stable life, he seizes the chance to act without consequences, and what ensues is startling and savage. Is it rape? Or something mutual, animal, completely new to him? Returning again and again to Italia’s dim hovel, he finds himself faced with a choice: a life of passion with Italia, or a life of comfort and predictability with Elsa.
“Suddenly, driven by an absurd rebellious impulse, you look for the bones of the man you would have liked to be,” Timoteo explains to his unconscious daughter, as if asking forgiveness for preferring the passionate life he glimpsed so briefly.
In vivid, intense, masterful prose, Margaret Mazzantini has crafted a tale that electrifies from start to finish, drawing us deep down into the darkness of primal passion.
May 25, 2004
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