One of my favorite authors is Andrea Camilleri. He is responsible for the wonderful detective series Inspector Montalbano. I first came to know the series when I lived in Italy and watch the T.V. movies which were also wonderful. I recently found them at my library and practically- no, actually sang the whole way home. I was so excited to spend the weekend with Salvo Montalbano. He just makes me happy. I can relate to his morose sense of humor, and fatalistic acceptance of the world as it is.
I am not much of a mystery reader. I didn’t even know it was such a huge genre – I was kind of shocked in fact at the space dedicated to the subject on the shelves of libraries when I first bothered to notice. But, it is not so much the detective aspect of the stories that I love, it is Salvo. Camilleri is a master of character study, atmosphere, and… old world cafard. Also, the books take place in Sicily which is an enormous treat.
There is a similarity, in my mind, to Lampedusa’s The Leopard. The sumptuous feast that is Sicily comes alive in both authors’ renderings. The lugubrious opulence of the landscapes, towns, and people has the weight of centuries. And then there is the food, oh the food. The memory of an entire day spent lying motionless in bed from the sheer excess of food that confronted me in Sicily does not stifle my longing for more. It could have been the heat and general lack of decent refrigeration practices as well, but still- what I wouldn’t give for a panelli.
Both writers infuse their stories with such a precise feeling of the uniqueness of Sicily, I am surely limited, but I can only think of two other authors that seem to capture the feeling of a place so well: Camus’ The Stranger, and Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I don’t know if it is because the places they are writing about are so thick with mood, or because that is how they write, but I love it. It is so easy to slip into these books, to feel present, in the room, or on the street corner with the characters.
And then, everything that you could love about Sicily is embodied in Salvo Montolbano. He is a good guy, in a place where there is really no incentive to be so. In Camilleri’s hands, Salvo’s humor and strict fidelity to a good meal make every book in the series a pleasure to read.
All of the English translations are written by Stephen Sartarelli who does a marvelous job of conveying the complexity of the insinuations and linguistic connotations.
Cu’ pò nun vò, cu’ vò nun pò, cu’ fa nun sa e cu’ sa nun fa, e ‘cussi tuttu lu munnu va. (Sicilian proverb)
Who can, won’t; who wants to, can’t; who does it, doesn’t know how; and who knows how, doesn’t do it; and that’s the way of the world.