Saturday, July 12, 2008

Twisted Noir from Italy: Gianluca Morozzi's Blackout

I you will pardon a short digression into the language of Poststructuralist and Marxist literary theory of the 1980s, Gianluca Morozzi's novel Blackout (recently translated by Howard Curtis and published by Bitter Lemon Press) is "overdetermined," in the sense that rather than a single, straightforward series of related incidents there are a large number of influences underlying a single event. So little of what's actually going on in the story is revealed (while so much is apparently being revealed) that I could not until the very end understand why the story has been made into a "Major Film" as the cover of the paperback announces. Rest assured, all will become clear. It's actually difficult to say much about the plot without revealing too much (though the reader will figure it out a few pages before the ultimate revelation, as the author may well have intended). Three unrelated people converge on an elevator in a high rise in the deserted city of Bologna on the weekend of the August Bank Holiday. We know from Aldo Ferro, is a sadistic serial killer as well as a bar owner and a self-styled ladies' man. We learn a bit less about the other two at first, Claudia (a cocktail waitress whose girlfriend is out of town making a movie) and Tomas (a boy who is about to run away with the girl he met on-line). Their interactions once stuck in the suspended box are tense and not totally predictable (though also not startlingly original) for the central part of the narrative: panic, heat, thirst, personality clashes, despair. There are a few interludes developing further the "back stories" of the characters and the plot and also delaying the resolution of the tension in the elevator, and adding complications to a narrative that starts out as a serial killer thriller, becomes a psychological thriller, adds in a ghost story and a star-crossed lovers plot, and then ties it all together with a completely different plot that I'm not going to reveal here. As I said, overdetermined, and I don't mean that as a put-down--Morozzi's novel ultimately adds up to more than the sum of its parts. What seems for a while like a disappointing though occasionally lively and funny novel of one sort turns into a lively and entertaining satire of itself and of popular culture generally. While there's at least almost enough of the several thriller and sadist plots to satisfy lovers of those genres, the unexpected shift in the plot takes it all to another level. Just as the reader gets over the excitement of being sucked into the sudden and rapid resolution of the stuck-with-a-serial-killer-in-an-elevator story, there's a brief lull and, as Monty Python used to say, "now for something completely different." Overall, Blackout is very enjoyable. I found the two sides of Aldo's personality a bit difficult to reconcile (he's a bon vivant on the one hand and a sadist on the other--aren't serial killers supposed to be moody loners? But maybe that's only on TV shows: remember that Bundy was a charmer and the BTK killer turned out to be a popular church elder, and then there was perhaps the most vicious of all, Gacy the clown). If Tomas and Claudia seem a bit less vivid, they're supposed to be plain, ordinary folks in an extraordinary situation. And Claudia in particular turns out to have depths beyond a mere screaming-girl-victim from a slasher film (though slasher films are also evoked here). All in all, a much better story than I expected even halfway through the book--so stick with it. I don't know about that "Major Film," though--it seems to be removed from Italy and who knows what other changes will be made before it's out there in the movie theaters...

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