Saturday, April 27, 2013

This seemed reassuring

I had the pleasure of seeing Gianrico Carofiglio in interview yesterday evening, as part of the 15th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. He is a former anti-Mafia judge (in Italy) turned crime writer. I have not read his books, but I fully intend to (in fact, I bought a book after the show, and I'm already seven chapters in).

He's charming — modest and self-deprecating, yet exuding a calm confidence. He embodies very much the same qualities as his protagonist, defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri. When asked if he (Gianrico) and Guido are one and the same, he explains that, while he used to maintain a firm distinction between himself as author and Guido as an entirely fictional creation, upon seeing how popular Guido is with his women readers he's become much more flexible in the matter.

(He's so charming, in fact, that when he was signing my book for me, gosh, I don't know what came over me, my senses left me entirely, I think I flirted with him, and the opportunity to ask him a serious question about non-Scandinavian European crime fiction slipped past.)

Carofiglio came to writing relatively late in life, though he'd wanted to be a writer since he was eight. The question is not why a lawyer should decide to turn to writing, but why a young child who wanted to be a writer decided to become a lawyer instead.

He has mixed feelings about the port city Bari, the setting for this series of novels and from which he hails. He clarifies, it's good to have mixed feelings toward people and things you love. When things are too clear, it's not very interesting.

He echoes the sentiment in explaining why Guido is flawed: Weaknesses are more interesting than strengths. (And this is, I'm sure, why we love our poet detectives, our broken heroes, our tragic men — men readers find them easier to relate to, women readers come to care for them, want to fix them.)

Carofiglio tries to define a good lawyer. You must above all else have respect for people, all people. You must not be a moralist — there is no room for moral judgement in law. You must practice doubt.

In Italian, there's a saying: La verita, relativa. The truth is relative. One is an anagram of the other. There are always different versions of a crime, different versions of the truth. If you don't know this being a lawyer, then you're not a good lawyer, Carofiglio remarks. But he is not a relativist. Rather, acknowledging different perspectives and examining the multiple points of view is the best way to arrive at the truth.

I've started reading Involuntary Witness.

The psychiatrist was tall, massive and imposing, bearded and with hands like shovels. I could just see him immobilizing a raving lunatic and forcing him into a straitjacket.

He was kindly enough, considering his beard and bulk. He got me to tell him everything and kept nodding his head. This seemed reassuring. Then it occurred to me that I too used to nod my head while clients were talking and I felt somewhat less reassured.

It has a tone that reminds me a little of the one book I read by Wolf Haas. Self-involved, self-reflective, chatty, playful. It feels different from the Scandinavian crime novels. Though, Carofiglio wasn't about to make any generalizations of this sort. (He has read the first of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, and admits he found the stuff about computer hacking quite boring — he would've cut 150 pages.)

At any rate, Carofiglio has a brand new fan in me.

Here's a link to a review of Temporary Perfections, one of the later books in the series, but it in turn has links to reviews of several of his other books.

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