I lost my reading mojo for a bit, back there. Recently, it has returned, but I have been mainly walking well-trod paths. The Measure of Time by Gianrico Carofilgio has offered me a new direction, though many of you will already be familiar with the Guido Guerrieri series set in southern Italy. The series is a big hit and this latest instalment was shortlisted for the STREGA prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award.
The Measure of Time is a court procedural. My knowledge in this area is pretty much limited to having watched L A Law, so it’s fortunate that there is a great deal of explanation and exposition. Carofiglio was in his non-writing life an anti-Mafia prosecutor and he uses his pages to explain the tricks of the trade but also to riff a little about the philosophy behind them. A lecture that he has Guerrieri give some rookie magistrates could have been dull but will have you pondering modern morality. And this is the first novel I’ve read for a while (ie. ever) to give Aristotle not one but two name-checks at different points.
That may sound a little dry; it isn’t. There’s warmth and intelligence, a kind of Camilleri vs Kundera vs Baudrillard. And there is whimsy too, as Guerrieri explains his relationship with his punchbag (he talks to it and gives it personality and a name: Mr Punchbag). Howard Curtis has done a wonderful job in translation.
The case requires Guerrieri to represent the son of an old flame, and he reminisces on this decades-gone romance and his life at the time. I liked Guerrieri both as a 50-something and a 20-something, but found his irritation at his earlier self very relatable. He has a reflective inner life: he’s constantly observing, analysing, rethinking. He doesn’t get to sleep much, any more, and that restlessness rubs off on his mind. This is a book full of acute observation of human nature, rhetoric and personal integrity.
There’s a slight melancholy to it all, but a level of wit that disguises it. Much of the novel’s charm comes from its keen sense of place: the cafes, beaches, restaurants and – get this – the bookshop that’s open only at night. It’s all very cool indeed – but Guerrieri is almost the opposite of your noir protagonist. He has demons, but should he argue against them, they wouldn’t stand a chance.
There’s an ambivalence and ambiguity about the main case. You’ll have to get to the end to find out which way it goes, but what’s interesting is that Carofiglio has made us care less about the case itself than Guerrieri’s reaction to it.
A novel that sweeps you in from the start. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the blog tour invitation.