Andrea Camilleri, interviewed by Professor Tullio De Mauro, has recently explained the reason why he chose Sicilian dialect to write the majority of his novels and his well-known series centred on his most famous creature: Il Commissario Montalbano. In his early years he had started writing poems ( the Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo had offered to include them in a Sicilian anthology of poems) and short stories. Short, in fact, whenever he tried to write in Italian, it seemed as if he “ran out of breath”, he said, and couldn’t carry the narration any further.
When his father, with whom he had always had a conflicting relationship, was diagnosed of an incurable disease, he decided to spend his last days with him. It was the last occasion to talk, to make things clear, to understand each other, if possible. In one of these daily visits, Camilleri explained to his father, that he had in mind a subject for a novel, but when it came the time to put words on paper, he just couldn’t make any progress. His father wanted to listen to his story and in the end he suggested: “Write it down, just the way you have told it to me“. In Sicilian. Certainly it couldn’t be used the pure dialect, as Camilleri, just like any other writer, wanted to be read and understood. Therefore he started to make meticulous linguistic experiments, analyzing the language that was spoken at home, for example, and after many attempts he eventually reached the perfect balance between Italian and Sicilian, that successful blend that makes Camilleri’s style of writing so appealing. Camilleri had been at his father’s bedside for a month and a half. One day the old man seemed for a while as reawaken from his state of torpor and said to his son lucidly:”Go, go to smoke a cigarette!”( Camilleri is still a heavy smoker with a raucous distinctive voice). He did what he had been said and when he came back, his father had passed away.
Montalbano‘s character is largely inspired by the figure of his father. The inspector is a shrewd intelligent man, not inclined to compromise, with a high moral standard and human understanding. He is also the hedonist who enjoys the pleasures of food (religiously in silence), long walks and swims, good reads, better if in solitude. In these moments the narration seems to slow down, as if to allow the reader to take part in Montalbano’s sensations and savour with him that moment of bliss and peace. These are the best moments, when he finds the right inspiration to solve the cases. Hence the slow time of hedonism and reflection gives way to the much faster time of action, when the inspector can display his natural instinct and cunning.
Being a person who enjoys solitude, Montalbano can’t be a family man, for sure. He is eternally engaged with Lidia, who lives in Boccadasse, in Liguria, therefore far enough not to be involved in the dynamics of a couple, which he would certainly consider tedious, but he cannot escape the evening ” sciarratine” (fights) on the phone. Even if Montalbano remains mostly faithful to Livia, apart from the last episodes, her greatest antagonist is Adelina, Montalbano’s housemaid. Adelina looks after him and cooks beautifully (while Lidia cannot cook even an egg). Whenever Lidia comes, she disappears. They hate each other heartily, but they are complementary in Montalbano’s world: the housemaid and the lover, thus avoiding all the complications of committment. Every man’s dream.
Camilleri ‘s great descriptive craft, and character building can be enjoyed in every page of his novels. The inhabitants of Vigata are a gallery of humankind, with their miseries, secrets, vices and that conspiracy of silence that Montalbano always tries to crack. The microcosm of the police station of Vigata is peopled by his colleagues, who, at least some of them, are also his closest friends. His vice inspector, Mimì Augiello is exactly his reverse. He is a “fimminaro” (womanizer), who eventually marries and names his child after him: Salvo. He is not endowed with a great instinct, which Montalbano actually sees in Fazio. Even if he is annoyed by Fazio’s pedantry, he trusts and admires him. Catarella is the clumsy simpleton with a tender heart. He maims every name, generating funny misunderstandings and even if he seems to be a little dimwit, he is a champion at Computer Science. I guess there is a subtle message here.
Montalbano’s co-star is undoubtely Sicily . Camilleri succeeds in making the reader live and enjoy all the colours and flavours of an enchanting country, which is too often in the limelight only for the criminal organizations which still control it. Food, art, culture, sea, warm weather and welcoming people are the treasures that can be found in that fortunate land; a land that Montalbano loves deeply and fights for.