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the prank of the good little virgin of via ormea

15 january 2017

The Prank of the Good Little Virgin of Via Ormea is an immediate sequel to Amara Lakhous' Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet. Where Piglet was told by essentially just one narrator, imaginative journalist Enzo Laganà, Prank has two: Enzo and an Italian woman, Patrizia, who has dropped out of the corporate world to live as a Roma under the name Drabarimos. (Enzo is one of the few characters in all of Lakhous' fiction who has just one name.)

The themes of The Prank of the Good Little Virgin of Via Ormea would not seem ideal for Lakhous' typical macaronic/farcical approach. It's a novel about false claims of rape, xenophobia, fake news, financial malfeasance, kink shaming, and pretenses to ethnic identity. Of course, Piglet and its predecessors don't shy away from controversial topics, either. If you want uncontroversial topics tastefully discussed, you should probably choose a different author.

The good little virgin of the title gets her name ironically. We never really learn much about her. She claims to have been raped by two young Roma men, a story (as written by Enzo but heavily modified by his publicity-seeking editors) that spurs a mob to attack and burn a Roma encampment in Turin. But Virginia (the character's actual name) may simply be trying to hide her relationship with a cousin, or she may be a sex worker trying to hide her entire lifestyle. She needs to hide her sexual activity because of her hideously patriarchal grandmother, who makes an annual event of checking Virginia's maidenhead.

I told you this was not going to be a decorous novel. Lakhous has a way of playing the ghastly for laughs. Enzo, at the heart of all the lies that criss-cross The Prank, is an over-testosteroned egoist with no censor on his opinions. His opinions are generally progressive, but his newspaper twists them far to the right when he appears in print, so that Enzo can serve as a point of connection among people who come from every political angle. That's a clever move on Lakhous' part – we wouldn't that believe a pure-hearted progressive could number gutter xenophobes and Berlusconi-like magnates among his acquaintances, and we'd get tired of listening to sanctioned opinions.

Meanwhile, Patrizia/Drabarimos is scarcely less problematic. She is fronting as a despised minority in order to atone for her career so far, as a privileged predator. She uses her former CEO's innocent but queer sexuality to blackmail him into making restitution to investors that he (and Patrizia) have ripped off.

At the same time, Enzo is scheming how to pit the various fanatics of Turin against one another so that some good will come out of the mess – and he sort of succeeds, though not really in the ways he was trying to.

The Prank of the Good Little Virgin of Via Ormea, for all its noise and jokes, tries to be a teaching story, to ask us which of our allegiances we'd follow in an intricate and duplicitous scenario. "The point is that every fucking revolution brings with it a fucking counterrevolution," Enzo concludes. "I'm starting to get a headache" (168).

Lakhous, Amara. The Prank of the Good Little Virgin of Via Ormea. [La zingarata della verginella di Via Ormea, 2014.] Translated by Antony Shugaar. New York: Europa, 2016.