This is the first of the prolific Italian author’s novels to be published in English—a cause for celebration.
This inventive satire stars 15-year-old Margherita, as charismatic, though far wiser, than British author Sue Townsend’s popular creation Adrian Mole. She lives with her odd family on the outskirts of the city, not quite in the country, rather a place of both meadows and smog. She, with her beloved mongrel Sleepy, wiles away the days writing just the first line to assuredly brilliant novels and visiting Grandpa Socrates in the attic (he is having an affair with a ghost—Margherita can hear them dancing at night). Margherita stands in awe of her young, genius brother Erminio and the older Giacinto, a pimply football hooligan. Mother Emma is addicted to TV soaps and imaginary smoking, while father Fausto is a professional retiree who collects (and sometimes fixes) junk. A contented bunch all until Margherita’s happily imperfect idyll is altered when a black-glass cube house is built and the new neighbors move in. The Del Bene family, including a ferocious dog (even Sleepy has a rival) undergoing Pavlovian attack -training, is marked by frivolity and foolishness. In a matter of days, Margherita’s family is strikingly transformed by the Del Benes—they become a shinier, greedier, slightly drugged version (this would be Mama suffering the ill effects of cellulite cream) of their former selves, and worse yet, Papa is now partners with Frido Del Bene in the always-suspicious business of import-export. Margherita is not fooled by the perfection of their plastic grass and purified air. Though a little fat and with a bad heart, she knows it’s up to her to save her family, and all those others the Del Benes are attempting to eliminate—gypsies, immigrants, potential communists, the mentally ill and anyone else wary of the black-boot march of an insipid conformity.
An elegant little piece of dark comedy.