Book Description: In a large apartment house in central Rome, two crimes are committed within a matter of days: a burglary, in which a good deal of money and precious jewels are taken, and a murder, as a young woman whose husband is out of town is found with her throat cut. Called in to investigate, melancholy Detective Ciccio, a secret admirer of the murdered woman and a friend of her husbands, discovers that almost everyone in the apartment building is somehow involved in the case, and with each new development the mystery only deepens and broadens. Gaddas sublimely different detective story presents a scathing picture of fascist Italy while tracking the elusiveness of the truth, the impossibility of proof, and the infinite complexity of the workings of fate, showing how they come into conflict with the demands of justice and love.
Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Alberto Moravia all considered That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana to be the great modern Italian novel. Unquestionably, it is a work of universal significance and protean genius: a rich social novel, a comic opera, an act of political resistance, a blazing feat of baroque wordplay, and a haunting story of life and death.
(© NYRB Classics)
Carlo Emilio Gadda is universally regarded as the most interesting and original writer in contemporary Italian literature, and this novel, his major work, is recognized throughout Europe as a masterpiece of baroque magnificence and savage, black humor.
Most of the Pasticciaccio--as the novel is called familiarly after its Italian title--takes place on the via Merulana, an unlikely setting for a great novel, as William Weaver says in his Introduction, and the least romantic street in Rome: a long, straight thoroughfare with square, solid, ugly buildings, constructed for the square, solid bourgeoisie of half a century ago. In a large apartment house on this stolid street, an apartment house occupied mostly by the upper-middle-class, some rich, and some not so rich, two crimes are committed within three days of each other. After an armed hold-up in which a considerable sum in jewels and money is stolen, a young woman is found savagely murdered in a different apartment on the same landing, and the police investigation begins. The novel thus is, at least on the surface, a wryly amusing, exciting, exceedingly involved and, in the end, unsolved murder mystery. But the author is concerned with much more than its unraveling. Indeed, the murder mystery seems merely a rich device to expose the Rome of 1927, a society of rich profiteers and pompous minor bureaucrats that hid behind Mussolini's bragging rhetoric.
Gadda's great novel may therefore be seen as a profound and vast allegory of Italy's descent into corruption and violence during the dark years of Fascist rule.
In English, one could only compare Gadda to Joyce. His novel, it seems likely, will eventually have the same prominence and renown in the English-speaking world that it already has in Italy, France and Germany, in fact all over Europe. Gadda is above all close to Joyce in the power of his intellect, in the overflowing richness of cultural learning he brings to his writing, and in the great range in mood and tone of his style. As one Roman critic said on the novel's first appearance in Italy, Seasoned like a classic, the Pasticciaccio is not only the highest peak of Gadda's art, but it is also one of the great works of XXth century Italian literature,
(© George Brazillier, Inc.)