Monday, August 31, 2009

Review of The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli, published by Picador (2003, in Italian in 1994)

Silvio Luparello, a well connected Sicilian politician, is found dead in his car by two garbage collectors at the Pasture, a narrow strip of brush land between an abandoned chemical plant and a beach, a liminal space of prostitution and drugs. It seems as if Luparello has died in flagrante, but Inspector Salvo Montalbano is not so sure. Tantalisingly out of reach, something is not quite right and despite the pressure of his boss, the local judge and a bishop to close the case he keeps returning to the source of his unease – why would Luparello, known for his discretion, risk everything by visiting the Pasture? And who was in the car with him at the time he died? Slowly, but surely, he starts to form water into shapes, but which one is the truth?

I had a little friend, a peasant boy, who was a little younger than me. I was about ten. One day I saw that my friend had put a bowl, a cup, a teapot and a square milk carton on the edge of a well, had filled them all with water, and was looking at them attentively.

‘ “What are you doing?” I asked him. And he answered me with a question in turn.

‘ “What shape is water?”

‘ “Water doesn’t have a shape!” I said, laughing. “It takes the shape you give it.”’

Camilleri’s writing seems breezy and effortless, sucking the reader into the seedy underbelly of Sicilian high society and the easy going and urbane world of Inspector Montalbano, and I zipped through The Shape of Water in a few hours. Camilleri keeps the pace fairly brisk by minimising the description of scenes and characters to their essences. His characterization and sense of place suffers little however. Often quite humorous, the story is well plotted and from the mid-point on it starts to twist and loop, cleverly tying up different strands and proving Montalbano was right to have doubts. I found The Shape of Water to be a more satisfying read than August Heat (my review here) although the latter book had a more rounded list of supporting police characters.

Other reviews:
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