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That Awful Mess on Via Merulana (1957)

by Carlo Emilio Gadda

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0142215,694 (3.55)28
In a large apartment house in central Rome, two crimes are committed within a matter of days: a burglary, in which a good deal of money and precious jewels are taken, and a murder, as a young woman whose husband is out of town is found with her throat cut. Called in to investigate, melancholy Detective Ciccio, a secret admirer of the murdered woman and a friend of her husband’s, discovers that almost everyone in the apartment building is somehow involved in the case, and with each new development the mystery only deepens and broadens. Gadda’s sublimely different detective story presents a scathing picture of fascist Italy while tracking the elusiveness of the truth, the impossibility of proof, and the infinite complexity of the workings of fate, showing how they come into conflict with the demands of justice and love. Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Alberto Moravia all considered That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana to be the great modern Italian novel. Unquestionably, it is a work of universal significance and protean genius: a rich social novel, a comic opera, an act of political resistance, a blazing feat of baroque wordplay, and a haunting story of life and death.… (more)
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» See also 28 mentions

Italian (9)  English (9)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This isn't really a good choice for non-native-speakers to read in Italian. Much of it (narrative as well as dialogue) is in various shades of dialect, there is a lot of wordplay, free association, intertextuality and all the rest of it. I probably missed four-fifths of it, but it will be fun to re-read some time and pick up a few more of the jokes. I think I did get all the physics references, at least, and some of the musical ones!

It looks like a crime story, with conspicuous allusions to Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue", and it seems to have influenced a lot of modern crime writers, but it is obviously a lot more than that. Gadda was writing in the forties and fifties, but the story is set in March 1927 (Gadda is very precise about dates, vague as he is about other things), in the early days of fascism, and there are quite a few barbed references to the fascists as well as a general underlying questioning of the whole idea of state power. The dialect is an important part of this undermining of authority, of course, and we also see (for example) police officers visiting an illegal brothel/bar/fortune-teller/sewing-workshop as customers, without the narrator treating it as anything worth commenting on.

There's also a lot of questioning of conventional ideas of narrative — notoriously including the complete elimination of what's usually the most important element of a crime story, the capture of the criminal and the resolution of the case. That's left as an exercise for the reader. And Gadda has a lot of fun interrupting the progress of the story at critical points with apparently irrelevant descriptive passages and flights of fancy. Apparently, where most writers spend the final editing period cutting the text, Gadda did the reverse, inserting delay-passages wherever he felt things were moving too fast. It's quite typical of the whole that the policeman, Commissario Ingravallo, finally gets issued with a car only about ten pages before the end of the book. Up to that point he's been travelling by tram and on foot. There's even a ludicrous sequence where two officers go to conduct investigations in the countryside on a motorcycle. When they arrest two suspects, they have to commandeer a horse and cart to transport them back to the station (it's not made clear how they get the motorbike back...).

Opinions about Gadda's sexuality seem to vary, but the motorbike passages at least have a very strong homoerotic flavour about them, with a lot of stuff about gleaming uniforms and throbbing machinery between the legs (think Tom of Finland...). And there's also a bit in the early part of the book where a bachelor civil servant gets very nervous when the police ask questions about the unusual number of delivery boys calling at his apartment ("Well, you can't expect someone in my position to walk through the streets carrying a ham and a bottle of olive oil...").

A very interesting book, but one it isn't easy to make sense of! ( )
1 vote thorold | May 6, 2020 |
Not a fan of overly florid writing styles. If you're into that kind of thing then it's probably a treat with all its dialect, rambling and flourishes. Me, I've got some Flannery O'Conner to read instead, so I only made it 14 of the way through this. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
Romanzo decisamente difficile, da leggere ma soprattutto da giudicare. L'ambientazione, le descrizioni la resa dei personaggi e lo stile di scrittura sono indubbiamente di gran valore. Il finale lascia un po' dubbiosi sul fatto che potesse essere reso meglio. Analizzandolo invece con i canoni del romanzo giallo o poliziesco non lascia molto invece, la trama e' molto frammentata da descrizioni e divagazioni che, sebbene rappresentino il piatto forte del romanzo e lo avvicinino ad essere un capolavoro dell'ultima letteratura italiana, ne rendono la lettura estremamente faticosa: si arriva infatti prima della meta' del romanzo a dimenticarci del delitto e a mandare avanti poco agevolmente la lettura solo gustando le ambientazioni e i linguaggi usati. La critica letteraria probabilmente non sbaglia ad avvicinarlo al capolavoro, ma per i canoni del giallo e' quasi totalmente fuori genere, ed e' sicuramente inadatto per una lettura poco impegnata. ( )
1 vote Mlvtrglvn | Jan 5, 2018 |
Halfway through:

Made a foray into one of the more difficult books I’ve ever read—and that’s saying something since I never shrink from a challenging read. But this thing . . . hooboy. Its language is evocative, invented, infinitely referential and most probably lost in translation. But it still has a power and rhythm that is undeniable under all that varicolored wrapping. The fact that someone has written a murder mystery and I care less about the identity of the killer halfway through the novel and more about the world engulfing that bloody act is an accomplishment alone. That it is also gorgeously confusing and makes the brain itch with urushiol-soaked taffeta is worth every damn paragraph. I can’t wait to get to Italo Calvino’s introduction when I’m done.

“The glinting eyes of the hereditary syphilitic (also syphilitic in his own right), the illiterate day-laborer’s jaws, the rachitic acromegalic face already filled the pages of Italia Illustrata: already, once they were confirmed, all the Maria Barbisas of Italy were beginning to fall in love with him, already they began to invulvulate him, Italy’s Magdas, Milenas, Filomenas, as soon as they stepped down from the altar: in white veils, crowned with orange blossoms, photographed coming out of the narthex, dreaming of orgies and the educatory exploits of the swinging cudgel.”

—That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda

Upon completion:

Never will I come across a book quite like this again. Some honeybees that bumped against sepals on their way to the heart of the flower:

“A widespread and delicate ovaricity, that’s the word, permeated the whole stalk of their soul: like ancient essences, in the ground and the meadows of the Marsica, in the stalk of a flower: pressed at length until they explode in the sweet perfume of the corolla: but their corolla, these women’s, was the nose, which they could blow as much as they pleased.”

“If you’re carrying a heavy suitcase, you don’t get past the Customs in Paradise . . .”

“Don’t do good if you are not prepared to receive evil.”

—That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana ( )
1 vote ToddSherman | Aug 24, 2017 |
O pasticciaccio é excelente, filosófico e genial. Fiquei fascinada pelo livro, mas logo tive a decepção de notar que meu italiano não é nem de perto bom o suficiente para ler esse livro e entender o magistral uso dos dialetos, e que eu dependo das traduções.
( )
  JuliaBoechat | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gadda, Carlo Emilioprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Calvino, ItaloIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Denissen, FransTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gelli, Pierosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pinotti, Giorgionota disecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Everybody called him Don Ciccio by now.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In a large apartment house in central Rome, two crimes are committed within a matter of days: a burglary, in which a good deal of money and precious jewels are taken, and a murder, as a young woman whose husband is out of town is found with her throat cut. Called in to investigate, melancholy Detective Ciccio, a secret admirer of the murdered woman and a friend of her husband’s, discovers that almost everyone in the apartment building is somehow involved in the case, and with each new development the mystery only deepens and broadens. Gadda’s sublimely different detective story presents a scathing picture of fascist Italy while tracking the elusiveness of the truth, the impossibility of proof, and the infinite complexity of the workings of fate, showing how they come into conflict with the demands of justice and love. Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Alberto Moravia all considered That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana to be the great modern Italian novel. Unquestionably, it is a work of universal significance and protean genius: a rich social novel, a comic opera, an act of political resistance, a blazing feat of baroque wordplay, and a haunting story of life and death.

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In a large apartment house in central Rome, two crimes are committed within a matter of days: a burglary, in which a good deal of money and precious jewels are taken, and a murder, as a young woman whose husband is out of town is found with her throat cut. Called in to investigate, melancholy Detective Ciccio, a secret admirer of the murdered woman and a friend of her husband, discovers that almost everyone in the apartment building is somehow involved in the case, and with each new development the mystery only deepens and broadens. Gadda's sublimely different detective story presents a scathing picture of fascist Italy while tracking the elusiveness of the truth, the impossibility of proof, and the infinite workings of fate, showing how they come into conflict with the demands of justice and love.
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