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la rete di protezione

25 october 2017

Of Andrea Camilleri's novels, La rete di protezione is, he says, "il primo non scritto ma dettato" (291): the first not written, but dictated.

My first thought was that Camilleri's books must have been a nightmare to proofread even when their author could see to do so. The Montalbano novels show as many as five adjacent linguistic registers: (1) Standard Italian, (2) a hybrid narrative language full of Sicilian words, (3) even more heavily Sicilian dialogue, (4) full Sicilian for some characters, and (5) Catarella. The weird thing is that elements of Catarella, the alingual switchboard operator / computer whiz, keep creeping into the basic narrating voice. One of Salvo Montabano's superiors is the questore for the Vigàta region. When the questore calls the commissariato, Catarella always refers to him as signori i guistori – and pretty soon, so does Montabano, and so does the novel's narrating voice. Would you want to try to narrate these details back to a proofreading blind author?

Of course you would if you could help bring yet another Montabano into the world, and extend its 91-year-old creator's hold on the heart of Italian detective fiction. La rete di protezione gives us a chance to spend another 250+ pages with Salvo, Mimì, Fazio, Catarella, Adelina, Ingrid, and Livia. As often before, two cases run in parallel. Active shooters invade a Vigàta school – and while nobody is harmed, shots are exchanged between the invaders and Mimì Augello, who happens to be there to see one of his son's teachers. The community is deeply upset: are these men terrorists? Private avengers? Pranksters gone wrong? Whatever they are, Salvo must find answers fast. Even Livia forgives him for breaking off a visit to Genoa in order to rush back and handle the case.

In the other matter, some research needed to transform Vigàta into a 1950s setting for a Sicilian/Swedish TV coproduction has unearthed a strange set of home movies. A local engineer's father had filmed the same bare patch of garden wall on the same day for the five years or so before his death. Why would anyone do such a spare, apparently pointless thing? What sixty-year-old secret is concealed?

The problems are ultimately not connected (it would strain credulity if they were). But one of La rete's themes is the interrelation of human connectedness and technology. A long-ago, old-tech, intimate story parallels a present-day story that revolves around digital communication and social media. You'd think a nonagenarian like Camilleri would be a Luddite; you'd think that he'd take any opportunity to join in criticism of these kids today. But Camilleri has long worked at the cutting-edge of the media world, and he's younger at heart than a lot of people a third his age. Central to La rete di protezione is a connection fused between the aging Salvo and his teenage godson (and namesake) Salvuzzo Augello. These kids today, Salvo learns, are a lot more like "us" morally and emotionally than a superficial glance would suggest.

Camilleri, Andrea. La rete di protezione. Palermo: Sellerio, 2017.