LAST ACT IN URBINO by Paolo Volponi


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 From the late prize-winning Italian author Volponi (The Worldwide Machine, 1967, etc.), the first English translation of a novel written in 1974: a rich blend of political commentary and sexual farce set in 1969 Urbino. Chapters alternate between the story of aging anarchist lovers, Gaspare Subissoni and VivÇs Guardajal, and the young, naive, self-centered Count Oddo Oddi-Semproni, the darling of his two maiden aunts and the envy of his conniving chauffeur, Giocondini. After the terrorist bombing of a bank in Milan, the ailing VivÇs wants to go to Milan to seek out the truth behind the bombing and the subsequent arrest of an anarchist, but she dies before she can go. Meanwhile, the isolated Oddi-Sempronis are watching the bombing reports play out on TV and planning their various day trips with the help of Giocondini. The ambitious chauffeur wants Urbino to become an independent duchy with Count Oddo installed as the nominal overlord, while he, Giocondini, will wield the real power. A hilarious sequence ensues when the aunts dispatch Giocondini on a mission to make Oddo a man: At the first brothel, the priapic and well-endowed Oddo wows the adoring prostitutes and, in revenge, the offended Giocondini takes him to a decrepit brothel where Oddo encounters the love of his life, the maid Dirce, whom he brings back to the palace. But Dirce is unhappy and runs away, eventually taking refuge with the now-widowed Subissoni. As the search for the runaway bride commences, Giocondini believes his crafty plans will mesh with Subissoni's own wishes for an independent Urbino; instead the plot takes a surprising turn and ends on a tragic note. The politically complex- -and philosophy-laden--Subissoni narrative takes on a new power after VivÇs's death: The chapter detailing her cremation and Subissoni's utter loneliness is chilling and moving. Meanwhile, the dim-witted count and his family, described with amused irony, provide a droll counterpoint to the intensity of the anarchists' plotline. Demanding but ultimately rewarding fiction.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-934977-33-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Italica Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995