1983, Books, Fiction

1934 (1983, Farrar Straus Giroux) by Alberto Moravia

I have written before about my love-hate relationship with Italian movies. But I can’t say that I have had this same experience with Italian literature, at least until now. Until now, I have genuinely liked the few Italian novels and short stories I have gotten my hands on. It seemed to me that what I liked about Italy was the product of the artistic intelligentsia, as opposed to products of the artistic plebs. I may have changed my mind.

One of the unfortunate characteristics of artists with depression is that they assume that everyone is depressed. They write their beliefs large. So we get the protagonist of this novel trying to make a theory out of his own life experience despite the fact that this experience of “life as despair” is wholly subjective. For example, his use of the word “logical” should offend most logicians.

But at the same time, artists who suffer with depression do tend to perceive things in a unique and helpful way much of the time. And so some of the value in this novel is the interesting take on life that comes from such a depressive personality.

Unfortunately, Moravia’s narrator is entirely¬†too aware. Yes, these are reflections, but Moravia wants us to believe that his narrator initially acted as if he was in some D.H. Lawrence novel; as if he was aware of what he was thinking and doing – and why he was doing it – pretty much all the time. But people are just not that perceptive.

Yes, we could attribute this to the reflection of the narrator himself; we could claim that he added these reflections retroactively. However, Moravia gives us no reasons whatsoever to doubt the narrator’s interpretation of his own personal feelings; we only doubt the things around him (as he does).

This is a huge and rather annoying flaw that is only exacerbated by the clunky dialogue that dominates the “Beate” portion of the book. Do people actually talk like this? Maybe it’s the translation.

The reveal in no way convinces me that the bad dialogue was somehow justified by the real intentions behind the behaviour.

There is a lot to like here:

  • some of Moravia’s observations are quite interesting and / or affecting;
  • I am always interested in interpretations of Nietzsche (even if they are romantic ones);
  • and you can’t go wrong with using the novel form to show what’s wrong with fascism.

However, Moravia beats us over the head with both his political points and his plot devices and he apparently does not understand people at some basic level.


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