Riccardino

It was 1994 when Camilleri’s “The Shape of Water” was published. It was the first episode of Inspector Montalbano’s saga, which, after more than 25 years, is about to end. Truly the end of an era. In fact, exactly a year after Camilleri’s death, his last work “Riccardino” will be released just tomorrow. We, Montalbano’s fans, cannot be but absolutely thrilled to discover what kind of finale Maestro Camilleri imagined for his hero. Being very close to retirement, as we ave read in the last books, will he eventually leave his beloved Vigata to join Livia, his perpetual fiancèe,  in Boccadasse? Will he die in one of his missions?

I am pretty confident that Camilleri found a way to close the curtains without being predictitable. In fact, it was 2005 when Camilleri delivered the draft of “Riccardino” to Elvira Sellerio, his publisher, but with the promise to release it in an unspecified tomorrow. In 2016, after eleven years and 15 books, Camilleri returned to those pages because he needed to “fix” the language adapting it to the times. Nothing changed in the plot and not even in the title which remained identical. In fact, differently from the essential and evocative titles of the other books like “the Shape of Water” to “The Snack Thief”, Camilleri with “Riccardino” wanted to mark an end. A definite one.

As Camilleri recounted in an old interview, at one point of his life he had to tackle with the problem of the “seriality” of his novels. A problem that many noir writers have and that he had decided to solve by making Montalbano age, thus dealing with all the changes that this would have entailed and the times that he would have lived. But it was not enough, as there was also a superstition issue, he explained. His two friends, crime writers too, JeanClaude Izzo and Manuel Vázquez Montálban, who wanted to get rid of their characters, had died before them in the end. So “I came up with another idea“:

“I wrote the end ten years ago – the writer revealed surprisingly – I found the solution I liked and I wrote it straight away, you never know if Alzheimer then comes. Therefore,  fearing Alzheimer I preferred to immediately write the ending. The thing that makes me smile most is when I hear that the manuscript is kept in the publisher’s safe … It is simply kept in a drawer.”

He then added:

“Montalbano will end, when I end, only then the last book will come out. What I can say is that it is not so fiction , but rather metafiction where the Inspector talks to me and also to the other Montalbano, the TV one. »

When he was asked if he had planned to make Montalbano die in a shooting, he just said:

“Nothing like this will happen . Montalbano will not die. No autopsy. … He will go away, he will disappear but without dying.”

With these words we have a sample Maestro Camilleri’s craft in creating interest and suspance, as he mocks us pretending to spoil his finale providing his readers with some anticipations, but he is not. Montalbano will disappear without dying, where to? What does he mean? And, if he disappears, isn’t it like dying, after all? So, a day before being released, Riccardino is a hit already. I can imagine Camilleri sneer with satisfaction, while he is lighting one last cigarette.

Il telefono sonò che era appena appena arrinisciuto a pigliari sonno, o almeno accussì gli parse. ‘Riccardino sono’, disse una voce squillante e festevole, per dargli appuntamento al bar Aurora. Ma Montalbano non conosceva nessuno con quel nome… Un’ora dopo, la telefonata di Catarella: avevano sparato a un uomo, Fazio lo stava cercando. Inutilmente il commissario cercò di affidare l’indagine a Mimì Augello, perché gli anni principiavano a pesargli; aveva perso il piacere indescrivibile della caccia solitaria, insomma da qualichi tempo gli fagliava la gana, si era stuffato di aviri a chiffari coi cretini. Si precipitò sul posto, e scoprì che il morto era proprio Riccardino”. (Riccardino. Chpt. 1)

Montalbano sono!!

salvo

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.

camilleri1When 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.

montalbano4_hg_temp2_s_full_lMontalbano‘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.

montalbano_liviaBeing 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.

15693_montalbano09Camilleri ‘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.