Guido Guerrieri is a sophisticated man. He buys his girlfriend a collection of poems by Cavafy. He plays Jim Morrison’s version of Albinoni’s Adagio. He talks to a nun about REM. And he goes to an all-night cinema that randomly serves spaghetti between screenings. He has a cultured, examined life. In A Walk in the Dark, by Gianrico Carofiglio, he takes on a case that could seriously hamper his legal career, such are the powerful forces stacked against him.
There are concepts popularly held of what it is to be an adult that would make Guerrieri a role model. You can imagine Carofiglio on a reading list alongside Updike and Playboy for the articles of course, to be enjoyed before nodding wisely along to Johnny Carson’s version of The Tonight Show. Guerrieri fits with that American ideal of a hero: he is a loner who is self-sufficient (he has recently learned to cook!), can successfully woo a woman and understands strategies in boxing as well as in the courtroom. But I think that’s too simplistic a reading. Not everything in this novel is as it seems, and that’s about right given that the case we follow comes down to which of two accounts of a relationship we believe. People aren’t who they say they are. More than one character is coming to terms with the past. And one fails to do so.
Guerrieri is not, I think, a role model, other than for a very specific kind of man. We’ve moved on from 1950s Marlboro Man (although Guerrieri does falter at one point in his battle against smoking). That isn’t to say that he isn’t an enjoyable narrator. He is great company: self-aware and honest. He beats himself up, a bit, whenever he thinks he hasn’t shown enough courage in a situation. At the end of the novel, we learn why. Alongside this, he muses on his life, rages against early ageing and grieves his early twenties, a time in which anything was possible but a margherita with his friends was enough. (These days, his girlfriend Margherita is not enough.) It’s a bit melancholy, but warm enough to be inclusive. (A bit like Shiny Happy People then). Howard Curtis has done a really good job in the translation suite.
But Guido Guerrieri isn’t the only character in this novel. Martina, his client. Sr Claudia, a force of nature against injustice. Scianatico senior and junior. Delissanti (also spelled Dellisanti and Delisssanti, which I would like to feel is deliberate), the opposing lawyer. All these people, including Guerrieri himself, take on a public persona that is different from reality. The lawyers perform, in and out of the courtroom. Guerrieri has a special suit that he wears as a kind of costume. Some of these personas have been built up as a defence mechanism against the past. There is an unnamed narrator who tells a harrowing tale of childhood abuse. (We do find out who it was, but in a sense it doesn’t really matter: the situation is appalling either way.)
In the end, A Walk in the Dark is about reacting with braveness to adversity but especially power imbalances. The judge who thinks he can bully a lawyer off a case. An adult who betrays their child. A partner who attempts coercive control. A small boy who went along with the big boys’ adventures but has spent decades regretting the moment he lost his nerve.
Since reading The Measure of Time earlier this year, I had looked forward to the prospect of more Carofiglio. A Walk in the Dark does not disappoint. An outstanding character study with more than enough courtroom tension to keep the momentum going. An electric combination.
Thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the blog tour invitation.