In contemporary Rome, a satanic caper implodes in this latest from the well-regarded Italian (Me and You, 2012, etc.).
When is a satanic sect no longer a sect? When it’s down to three losers and an uncharismatic leader. The Wilde Beasts of Abaddon would accept that harsh judgment. The four Romans are dejected and spiritless. Other disciples have quit. When they sacrificed a student and buried her alive, she dug her way out; then Silvietta became the girlfriend of Murder, another acolyte (Stockholm syndrome?). Their leader, Saverio, blames himself for their troubles. Henpecked by his wife, humiliated by his father-in-law (he manages his furniture store), he needs a release for his submerged hate. Then an opportunity arrives. The celebrity singer Larita, a convert to Christianity from Satanism, is the star attraction at an event where the Beasts will be moonlighting. They’ll behead her with the sword Saverio’s bought on eBay and then kill themselves. Their deliberations need a light touch which Ammaniti doesn’t quite achieve. Nor is it helpful that he develops a parallel storyline about the best-selling novelist Fabrizio Ciba. An unappealing narcissist with writer’s block, Fabrizio reflects Italian publishing’s fierce infighting but adds little to the mix. The storylines converge at a spectacular event organized by Chiatti, a real estate mogul and avatar of relentless vulgarity. He has bought one of Rome’s oldest parks to stage not just Larita’s concert, but three separate hunts (fox, tiger and lion). The Beasts’ silly scheme dissolves in squabbling over the suicide pact and, anyway, is overshadowed by the ruckus of the hunts. Fabrizio and Larita are thrown off an elephant; an art dealer is eaten by crocodiles; and in a surreal twist, defecting Soviet athletes and their subhuman spawn, living in the catacombs since the 1960 Rome Olympics, emerge to wreak havoc.
A novel that veers out of control, obliterating its setup and dulling Ammaniti’s admired edge as a satirist.