Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review of Contardi's Navi di carta, by Francesco Guardiani


Navi di carta, Gabriele Contardi. (Torino: Einaudi, 1990)
Review by Francesco Guardiani

It all begins by accident. A manila envelope is found by two young men strolling in a park; it contains a strange love letter by a woman threatening suicide. The two friends go the rescue and immediately enter in the thick of things, in the middle of the story. We have here already an assumed background and some expectations for the plot that is about to unfold. The two protagonists embody the necessary qualities of the writer. One is a hypersensitive dreamer, ready to accept all the symbolic fragments of the developing events; the other is a more intellectually rigid, realistic, cool and rational person. The story has a clearly defined setting, the city of Marseilles, identified by the post-stamp on the envelope. The two decide to travel there to search out the lovers. They have next to nothing to go by: the name of the addresse has been washed away by rain, and the sender is also unidentifiable except for the initial "L' with which she has signed the letter. The sleuths begin their search with very few clues but a lot of imagination. Their numerous findings are all encompassed by a constant ambiguity, a sense of uncertainty emanating from events and characters that inevitably lead to other stories. The ever-present image of the colossal shipwreck of the Titanic is a constant reminder of the impossibility of reaching a final destination. The natural element of water embraces every action in the novel. At one point, when the hotel where the two friends are staying is flooded in the middle of a winter story, the rain is described as "warm," a sort of amniotic fluid containing life in itself. A character of primary importance is that of a writer lodging in the same hotel: he is working on the story in which the young investigators find themselves; his shipwreck is testified by the fleet of paper boats he has made with the pages of his voluminous manuscript. The title, Navi de carta, points to the central motif of the quest: "navi" ships, vessels destined to explore and discover. They are made of paper ("di carta"), however, which suggests first of all that they are not real, being, rather, a parody of mythical vessels; and secondly that the trip is taken by means of paper, which is the "material" novels are made of. [Francesco Guardiani, The Review of Contemporary Fiction]

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