Today’s guest blog is by Barbara Pezzotti, PhD, an Honorary Research Associate of the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies (ACIS). She has published a number of articles and book chapters on Italian crime fiction, and the figure of the detective and the serial killer in New Zealand crime fiction. She is the author of Politics and Society in Italian Crime Fiction. An Historical Overview (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014), and The Importance of Place in Contemporary Italian Crime Fiction. A Bloody Journey (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2102). She has also published an e-book in Italian entitled I luoghi del delitto. Una mappa del giallo italiano contemporaneo (Florence: goWare, 2014). She is co-editor (with Jean Anderson and Carolina Miranda) of The Foreign in International Crime Fiction. Transcultural Representations (Continuum, 2012). She is currently working on a monograph on historical crime fiction provisionally entitled Murder in the Ages of Chaos: Italy’s Past in Historical Crime Fiction and Films. She lives in New Zealand with her husband Martin and her cat Garibaldi. She is a blogger for The Australasian Centre for Italian Studies.
I am glad that my new book “Politics and Society in Italian Crime Fiction. An Historical Overview” is finally out. This marks the end of a long story that started many years ago when I resigned from my job in Italy and moved to New Zealand to marry a nice kiwi bloke, Martin. Having a lot of time up to my sleeve, I decided to go for a PhD in literature. I was then told that my university years would be very challenging and I had to choose a topic I really liked if I wanted to keep my sanity. At that time, feeling nostalgic about my hometown, I was reading crime fiction set in Milan. I thought, why not? I did some research and I realised that in spite of being a very popular genre in Italy and notwithstanding the fact that some Italian crime fiction writers, such as Andrea Camilleri and Massimo Carlotto were very famous internationally, very little study had been done on Italian crime fiction. I jumped at the chance. The topic of my dissertation was the representation of city and regional identities in Italian crime fiction or giallo (yellow, from the traditional book cover for crime fiction in Italy) as we call it in Italian. I thoroughly enjoyed my postgrad years: I read tons of crime books, wrote about them, discussed them with a small bunch of academics who were doing similar research in different parts of the globe, and participated in crime fiction conferences. I also managed not to go nuts; at least I think I did. At the end of my PhD studies, my thesis was finally published in 2012 under the title of The Importance of Place in Contemporary Italian Crime Fiction. A Bloody Journey.
During the work on my thesis and then on my manuscript, I became increasingly intrigued by the way the giallo had been used for political reasons. I also noticed that a history of Italian crime fiction in English did not exist. I therefore decided to explore this topic further, embracing a wide temporal frame, from the end of the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. I was lucky enough to convince a publishing house, McFarland, that my project was worth pursuing and I started working on it at the beginning of 2011. I re-read some contemporary novels and classics, and I read old gialli (giallo in the plural) for the first time, discovering a new, exciting world of fiction. Through the analysis of writers belonging to different and crucial periods of Italian history, my ambition was to explore the different ways in which individual authors exploited the structure of crime fiction to reflect the social transformations and dysfunctions of Italy of their times. By investigating in particular the works of seven writers (Augusto De Angelis, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Leonardo Sciascia, Loriano Macchiavelli, Andrea Camilleri, Massimo Carlotto, and Marcello Fois) in the social and political context in which they were written, my book has ended up becoming an investigation into Italy’s recent history, too.
My “time travel” with Italian crime fiction highlights a characteristic that the giallo shares with many other Southern European, Latin American and Scandinavian crime novels: this genre has become a militant vehicle for social and political commentary. Important political and social themes have been present since the beginning of the genre in Italy: not only the hard-boiled formula, but also the traditionally reassuring whodunit in Italy shows a close relationship with Italy’s political and social environment. Among the issues tackled by the giallo are: pollution and a progressive and merciless industrialization of the countryside; consumerism and loneliness in the urban environment; criminal organisations; the North and South divide; a clash between regional and national identities, for example local dialects versus Italian; political instability and corruption and unresolved questions of democracy, freedom, and illegality.
It can be fun, it can be exciting, and it can be scary, but there is little comforting in reading most Italian crime fiction. It’s not an exercise for the faint-hearted, or for people who like to indulge in a postcard image of the country. Forget Venice and the gondolas, the Renaissance art and romance: the giallo is for tough guys and girls who like to be challenged and turn the last page of a book feeling a mix of emotion, uneasiness, and a desire to change the status quo.
Politics and Society in Italian Crime Fiction
This book comprehensively covers the history of Italian crime fiction from its origins to the present. Using the concept of "moral rebellion”, the author examines the ways in which Italian crime fiction has articulated the country’s social and political changes. The book concentrates on such writers as Augusto de Angelis (1888-1944), Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969), Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989), Andrea Camilleri (b. 1925), Loriano Macchiavelli (b. 1934), Massimo Carlotto (b. 1956), and Marcello Fois (b. 1960). Through the analysis of writers belonging to differing crucial periods of Italy’s history, this work reveals the many ways in which authors exploit the genre to reflect social transformation and dysfunction.