2000 - 2007 Books in Translation Thriller

I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti

I'm Not Scared Translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt

Five words from the blurb: Italian, village, children, discovery, scare

I bought a copy of this book a couple of years ago after seeing several bloggers rave about it. For some reason I expected it to be chilling and so avoided reading it until I could do so in daylight hours. This was unnecessary as it was a much less scary than I anticipated.

The book is set in a small Italian hamlet where six children have the freedom to explore the surrounding countryside. One day nine-year-old Michele is dared to enter a derelict house on the outskirts of their village and is shocked by what he discovers there.

The story was narrated by Michele so was much simpler and faster paced than I expected it to be – I flew through the entire book in just a few hours. There was something wonderful about the childhood innocence of the narration, but it also frustrated me. I felt I was being pulled along too quickly, forced to almost skim the words instead of slow down and think about the difficult issues that were being raised.

‘Papa! Papa!’ I pushed the door and rushed in. ‘Papa! I’ve got something to…’ The rest died on my lips.
He was sitting in the armchair with the newspaper in his hands looking at me with toad’s eyes. The worst toad’s eyes I had seen since the day I had drunk the Lourdes water thinking it was acqua minerale. He squashed his cigarette-end into his coffee cup….
Papa drew in air through his nose and said: ‘Where have you been all day?’ He looked me up and down. Have you seen yourself? What the hell have you been rolling in?’

The book has been described as a ‘literary sensation’ and I think that is the wrong term. I’m Not Scared is a more mainstream piece of fiction and is the type of book I’ll be pushing into the hands of a wide variety of friends. It is particularly good for showing that translated fiction needn’t be difficult or boring.

Some people might find the ending frustrating, but I was impressed by the suspenseful nature of it and the way it forces the reader to think about the book for much longer than they would if everything was tied up neatly.

Overall I found this to be an entertaining read, but it lacked the depth to be considered outstanding.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 …a gripping read with strong emotional impact. Medieval Bookworm

The ending went beyond ambiguous to just plain lacking. Carpe Librum

If you intend to read this book make sure you’ve got a few clear hours to do so, the storytelling is so rich and vivid you won’t want to abandon it until the final, devastating climax is reached. Reading Matters


2010 Books in Translation Chunkster

The Whisperer – Donato Carrisi

The Whisperer Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside

Five words from the blurb: missing, girls, arms, police, secrets.

I hadn’t heard of this book, but spotted it in my library and was sold by the bold lettering on the cover proclaiming it to be:

The Italian Literary Thriller Phenomenon

The blurb informed me that it had won lots of Italian book awards and was a record-breaking bestseller in Europe and so I decided to give it a try.

The plot revolves around the discovery of a circle of arms buried in a forest. The bodies of the girls that they belonged to can not be found and so the hunt for their serial killer begins.

I initially loved this book. The writing style reminded me of Sophie Hannah and I was totally gripped to the horror that was unfolding.

A fresh anxiety took hold of her. She had put her own life and the hostage’s at risk. And now she was scared. Scared of making another mistake. Scared of stumbling at the last step, the one that would take her out of this horrible lair. Or discovering that the house would never let her go, that it would close in on her like a silken net, holding her prisoner for ever.

Unfortunately things began to unravel as the plot progressed. I began to feel patronised by the way the book repeated things and over-explained every situation. It was definitely a case of being told what was happening, rather than shown.

There were several sections where I had to suspend my disbelief. I don’t mind this to some extent in a thriller, but the plot in this book stretched my tolerance threshold to the limit.

I guess my main problem with this book is the marketing. The Whisperer isn’t a literary thriller. It is a good thriller, but it doesn’t have the depth I’d expect from a book marketed with the word “literary”. I can see why thousands of people would enjoy flicking through this on the beach, but I was frustrated by the two-dimensional characters and the increasingly bizarre plot twists.

Recommended to those who enjoy fast paced thrillers that focus on plot rather than character.


2009 Books in Translation Other Prizes

The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano

 Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside

Winner of the Premio Strega 2008, Italy’s premier literary award.

Paolo Giorgdano is the youngest author to win the Premio Strega – he was just 26 when he was awarded the prize. There has been a lot of publicity around this and so I was keen to see how he managed such a remarkable achievement.

The title and the five literary awards this book has won led me to think I’d find a complex literary novel with a mathematical element, so was very surprised to discover that The Solitude of Prime Numbers is actually a light, coming-of-age story with elements more associated with a thriller.

The book centres on two children – one wracked with guilt after abandoning his sister, the other suffering from anorexia. They form a bond with one another, but this relationship is strained as they progress through their teenage years.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers was a real page-turner and I read it in a single sitting. The plot was fast paced and well structured, but I was surprised that this book was so highly acclaimed – it was an enjoyable read, but it lacked the depth I expected from a multiple award winner. The writing was simple, but precise and there were many sections where his talent shone through, but at the end of the book I was left with a “is this it?” feeling.

A small section compared the two children to prime numbers, but this felt out of place compared to the rest of the book. I’m not sure why a simple piece of mathematics has amazed so many people – perhaps it is that scientist in me coming through again, but I thought it was just a bit cheesy.

2760889966649. He put the lid back on the pen and set it down next to the paper. Twothousandsevenhundredandsixtybillioneighthundred andeightyninemillionninehundredandsisxtysixthousandsixhundredandfortynine, he read out loud. Then again, under his breath, as if to appropriate that toungue-twister to himself. He decided that number would be his. He was sure that no one else in the world, no one else in the whole history of the world, had ever stopped to consider that number. Probably, until then, no one had ever written it down on a piece of paper, let alone spoken it out loud.

I thought it was appropriate to review this book after my post on author age yesterday as this is another example of a book where a younger author has failed to impress me.

Overall, I thought it was a reasonably enjoyable light thriller, but it is nothing special.

This is by no means a perfect novel, but it’s an extraordinarily human one. Reading Matters 

….a phenomenal read. Rob Around Books

…a beautiful story which shows just how a traumatic childhood can scar us for life. Bibliophile by the Sea

Have you read The Solitude of Prime Numbers ?

Were you surprised by the contents of the book?