Wednesday, February 16, 2011


This is an article I wrote for the Picador website a couple of years ago. They have revamped the website and the article has been archived so I thought I would revive it here.

Andrea Camilleri was born in 1925 in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, and came to writing late in life. He has been a TV producer, drama teacher and theatre director. A committed Marxist, he was a great friend of another superb crime writer, Leonardo Sciascia, and he follows Sciascia's example of packing plenty of hard hitting content into a very few pages. Clive James once commented in The New Yorker that Camilleri could do a character's entire back-story in half a paragraph.

Now living in Rome, Camilleri sets his Montalbano novels in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata. Since his success, his home town of Porto Empedocle has added Vigata to its name.
Sicily is the island where, as Sciascia said, 'the left hand does not trust the right hand even when they belong to the same man.' The Montalbano books communicate a real sense of place and through reading them we learn about the fabric of Sicilian society, Sicilian food, and also wider Italian history and politics.

Delicious meals and recipes are a major part of the entertainment in the Montalbano books and a cookery website in Illinois, Champaign Taste was inspired to start an event based on recipes from the novels.

Hardly surprising when Camilleri writes a sentence like this:

The pasta with crab was a graceful as a first-rate ballerina, but the stuffed bass in saffron sauce left him breathless, almost frightened. [The Snack Thief]

Salvo Montalbano, unlike his Northern European counterparts, is only really depressed when his housekeeper Adelina has left him nothing in the fridge and the Trattoria San Calagero is closed.

An erudite writer, Camilleri pepers his novels with references to authors such as Leonardo Sciascia, Luigi Pirandello, Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and William Faulkner; as well as philologist NicoloTommaseo, composers Giacomo Puccini and Guissepe Verdi, and to hefty chunks of Italian history. It is important to read translator Stephen Sartarelli's excellent notes to be able to better appreciate and enjoy the texture of the stories as they are woven onto the Sicilian canvas.
[to be continued]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - A fine tribute to a gifted writer. Thanks for sharing this article; I truly enjoyed it.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

Thank you for beginning to republish your article, Norman. Camilleri is such a fine author, and I believe he has another book in the Montalbano series coming out later this year. I did read or begin to read his short story in the Crimini collection but I did not think so much of that (or the others in the collection that I read, so I left the book in the doctor's waiting room where I was struggling to read it during a 1.5 hour wait for an appointment!)

8:11 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot. Part two will be up in a few days.

Thanks Maxine. I have still to read his The Track of Sand.
Sorry to hear about your 1.5 hour wait in the doctor's waiting room! Our doctor's waiting room has plenty of reading material, well coughed over books, and numerous magazines. In those magazines you can read all about the upcoming April Royal Wedding- Yes, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon will marry Prince Albert, Duke of York.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Thanks for both parts on Camilleri.

I am on a Montalbano binge right now, finished "The Track of Sand," and am reading "The Terra Cotta Dog."

I had read "August Heat," "The Shape of Water," and "The Smell of the Night," and enjoyed all of them.

The humor has knocked me over on occasion. The food situation where Montalbano has just eaten and is reminiscing over a meal, is eating or is contemplating his next meal is so much a part of the books. This must be a trait of Italian life, as it occurs in other books, too, but here it is delightful.

The other characters are fun. A friend who is a Montalbano fan, laughs at even hearing Catarella's name.

These books are very enjoyable. I like the political thoughts and comments, too.

And I enjoy the brevity of the writing. It is so non-ponderous, and just fun to read.

Thanks so much for your two essays and reviews.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Kathy.
I have a lot in common with Montalbano, when it comes to food.
I do like the fact that the books are not too long.

6:37 AM  

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