Thursday, July 28, 2011

REVIEW: Quiet Chaos, by Sandro Veronesi

Quiet Chaos, by Sandro Veronesi. Published 2011 by Ecco. Translated from the Italian by Michael F. Moore.

Quiet Chaos is the devastating story of a man who saves the life of a woman he does not know only to be immediately confronted with the death of the most important woman in his life. Enjoying a day at the beach with his brother Carlo, TV exec Pietro Paladini rescues a woman drowning in the ocean. When he comes home, he finds out that Lara, his partner and the mother of his child,  is dead. He is then faced with confronting his own grief and take care of his young daughter Claudia.

What he decides to do next is nothing. He waits in his car in front of his daughter's school, first just for the day, and then everyday. His life swirls around him but he keeps it at bay. Unwilling to accept help or even sympathy for his loss, he avoids the people who know what happened to him. Passive while his career and workplace in transition, Pietro takes meetings with colleagues in his car and just waits for things to sort themselves out. He sorts through his difficult relationship with Carlo and his partner's sister curbside, gets tangentially involved with schoolteachers and other parents, makes friends with denizens of the park near the school and does all he can to keep his life and his feelings at a distance.

So the book really lives up to its title; it's a quiet story about the storm of chaos inside a man who works at nothing so much as refusing to deal with the unpredictable tides of his emotions. He even confronts the woman whose life he saved from the safety of his car. Veronesi has Pietro narrate the book in the first person and gives us long, detailed monologues in which Pietro will talk about his daughter's gymnastics, her friends, his past girlfriends, his career, his brother's career- anything to avoid the only thing he can't stop thinking about- Lara's death:
For two days, it's been raining. The summer ended all at once, the temperature dropped, and the amenity of this corner of the world seems to have dissolved. But not for me. I had thermal paper inserted in the car fax, put on warmer clothes, bought a nice new umbrella, and waited in front of the school in the rain. I observed the changes that the beginning of fall had brought to the neighborhood, all of them for the worse, but I continued to feel good. I worked, doing the little you can in a company that's paralyzed; I received people in my car, or at the café opposite the school, and I signed the contracts I was supposed to sign...I'm supposed to be grieving: all of a sudden, a finger pointed at me and a voice thundered, "You, Pietro Paladini! Grieve!" But I'm not grieving, you see, and I can spend all my time with my daughter, which is what I want, and retreat from the daily bedlam that is wearing out all my colleagues; and I can remember, compile my lists, look at people on the street, and go home to watch TV and eat and sleep like before..."
But it's not like before, and never will be again, and Pietro's calm, hard and smooth like burnt sugar, has to crack eventually.

Quiet Chaos won the Strega Prize, Italy's most prestigious literary award, in 2006 and I would describe the book as highly character-centered and slightly experimental. Veronesi succeeds at creating a rich portrait of a very sad man who pretends to be anything but. There are several long passages of stream of consciousness-type writing and little to nothing actually happens, and 400-plus pages could be a lot of nothing if you're not engaged with the character. It's definitely not a quick read and sometimes it felt labored to me; I had to really push through to the end but I'm glad I did because the payoff that awaits is beautiful, moving and poetic.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.


ImageNations said...

Reviews such as this help me to try any book I am confronted with, with the hope of finding something beautiful at the end. Thanks Marie

bermudaonion said...

As much as I like great characters, I need something to happen in a book, so I don't think I'll look for this one.

R. J. said...

Thanks for a very informative review. There was a time in my life when I would dive into sharing the angst of others through my reading choices. I'm a little more cautious at this point because I need more excitement and entertainment. I just get impatient with characters in books such as this one. I need uplifting characters that don't drag me down with them. Never would I slog through 400 pages of what sounds like a therapeutic journal assigned by a psychiatrist. Thanks for the heads up.

Marie Cloutier said...

R.J.- ouch! Well, no one's going to make you!

Zibilee said...

I am not really all that big of a fan of stream of consciousnesses writing, but the other things that you had to say about this book intrigue me. The simple fact that you call this one devastating, coupled with the last sentence of your review make me think that this one might be worth taking a chance on. I really enjoyed reading your astute thoughts on this book, and think I will be looking for it. Thanks again, Marie, for a beautiful review :)

Kathleen said...

Slow, character-driven novels works well for me if I am in the right mood. When I hear "stream of consciousness" I sometimes get a bit worried. My experiences with that style have not always been the best. Overall this one does interest me and I think I could enjoy it if I were in the right mood.

Athira said...

I really want to read this one. I've heard of it a while ago but never got around to it. Thanks to your fabulous review, I'm off to get it asap.