#CanYouHearMe #ElenaVarvello #Review @katherinesunde3
Ponte, a small community in Northern Italy: peaceful woods, discarded rubbish, a closed-down factory. An unbearably hot summer like many others, wilted flowers and trips to the waterfalls.
This story is narrated by Elia Furenti, who lives in a secluded house with just his father and mother. A calm, quiet, unremarkable existence. Until the summer of 1978 when he is sixteen.
In the August of 1978, the summer I met Anna Trabuio, my father took a girl into the woods.
This is the story of the village of Ponte; small, provincial, unremarkable. Ponte has a cotton mill, where Elia's father works but in 1977 it becomes bankrupt and is left to rot, decline, fall away until it is nothing but "cold chimneys.....the wind whistling between the empty buildings."
The fall of the mill was the beginning of the end
This is the story of Elia and what happens to his father following the closure of the mill. It is the story of Elia and Anna and of being sixteen. It is the story of a village rocked by the discovery of a murdered boy and with the disappearance of a girl.
I keep referring to it as a story rather than a novel as it very much had this sense of storytelling. Despite actually being full of difficult themes and disturbed characters, harrowing incidents and mental issues, the writing has an air of patience about it. Perhaps because it was Elia's story and he is recounting the version of what he saw, what he discovered, observed, tried to piece together as a naive sixteen year old. Perhaps it is due to the beautiful descriptions which deftly create a sense of time and place. The writing evokes the heat of the summer, the rural community, the isolation of the village and the atmosphere of Italy with impressive effect.
We lived at the top of a hill - the house where [my father] grew up - where the road died into a path, three kilometres from Ponte, a small provincial town .......a narrow valley, an abandoned pyrite minim a twisting river, an old stone gorge, another with two lanes over the river and woods all around.
I loved the local characters, the brief but telling descriptions of the village and the villagers and the relationship between Elia and his mother. It is only a short novel, but the world it creates is endless and easy to picture.
There are some sections written from an anonymous point of view as well which create tension and suspense and also remind the reader that something mightily threatening is going on, lurking in the shadows and that one person is in great danger. I liked this contrast between a small, quiet, unremarkable village and an unsettling revelation of a crime that destroys everything. I liked the exploration of what happens when the central purpose, destination and definition of a town is lost and how everything starts to unravel. About what happens when people aren't equipped to recognise or have the support to confront depression, unhappiness and desperation - or do not know how to stop it.
Elia's father dominates the story. His decline is disturbing and sad. Elia's mother's patience and perseverance is touching and the reader is forever wondering whether his father is obsessed with the ghosts of the mill or up to something more sinister and dangerous. Elia is sixteen and this is a great age at which to place the protagonist - on the cusp of adulthood and also on the cusp of not only having to take on responsibility but also on the cusp of discovering the usual things that take over the minds of young boys, particularly in long, hot summers.
It is a coming of age novel, it is a crime story, it is about love, responsibility, mental health, mothers, fathers and small communities. At 272 pages it is a short, easy read and there is something very distinctive in the narration and prose. I very much enjoyed this novel and enjoyed the European atmosphere and setting. And the message at the end that "hate does nothing" is a powerful message for any reader but also reflects the powerful humility, understanding and emotional journey of the characters who we follow so closely in this story.
Can You Hear Me is published on the 13th July 2017 by Two Roads.
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