Cover image for The lament of the linnet
The lament of the linnet
Ortese, Anna Maria.
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Cardillo addolorato. English
Publication Information:
London : Harvill Press, [1997]

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325 pages ; 23 cm
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At the end of the eighteenth century, a prince, a sculptor, and a wealthy merchant arrive in Naples from Flanders. They visit a celebrated glover, a widower with his two youngest daughters, Elmina and Teresa, still living at home with him. The visitors find themselves strangely drawn to Elmina in particular, maybe because she is so silent, burdened it would seem with a mysterious sorrow. Although it is the sculptor who is successful in obtaining her hand in marriage, it is the prince -- aided by the necromantic skills of his friend the Polish duke -- who with the passage of time pieces together, through the nexus of lies and half-truths, the tragic story of the young woman and of the caged linnet, at once victim and tyrant, that must bring despair to all who seek to befriend it.

In the stark contrast between the transparent light of Naples and the dark forests of the north, still the haunt of elves and will-o-the-wisps, Anna Maria Ortese weaves her narrative with a dazzling sleight of hand, leaving the reader under the spell, of her enchantment.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Three wealthy young friends from Flanders (a prince, a sculptor, and a merchant) sojourn to Naples on a mission to visit a famous glovemaker. Elmira, one of the two youngest daughters of the glover, wins the attentions of the three visitors. Although she marries the artist, it is the prince who develops the closest relationship with her, as he delves into her strange and seductive past and that of her family. Using his own extrasensory gifts, and aided by the divining powers of an aristocratic Neapolitan friend, the prince charts the amazing and often extraordinary path of deviation, lies, and destruction that has permeated the history of her family and forged the character of this young woman. In order to find the hidden truths, the prince first has to wade through the mire of society gossip, forging the complex and unbelievable truths from the assumed falsities already in existence. Ortese is a master of language--her style is rich, beautiful, and Jamesian in its complexity. She weaves a delightful path through wealth, intrigue, and gossip; in doing so, she creates delicious and genuine characters. Wonderfully written, beautifully translated, utterly captivating. --Michael Spinella

Publisher's Weekly Review

Teeming with graveyard visions, religious apparitions, omens, sprites and all things playfully paranormal, this rococo romance from renowned Italian novelist Ortese (1914-1998) boasts an elaborate structure and a deep interest in philosophical mysteries worthy of Umberto Eco. Set in 1793, in the full glare of the Enlightenment, the novel uses the stuff of dreams and fairy tales to reject mechanistic rationalism. When three BelgiansÄIngmar de Neville, decadent prince and magician; impoverished sculptor Albert Dupr‚; and tubby, ostentatious merchant Alphonse NodierÄventure to Naples, each is smitten by a wealthy glovemaker's austere, inscrutable 16-year-old daughter, Elmina Civile. When Elmina's pet linnet starves to death through her forgetfulness, she tosses the dead bird to the gardener's catÄa seemingly callous act that repulses her suitors but does not prevent Dupr‚ from asking for, and getting, her hand in marriage. As Elmina metamorphoses from cold-blooded scatterbrain to siren to angelic presence, Prince Ingmar, obsessively in love and gifted with clairvoyance, discovers that she is bewitched. Indifferent toward Sasa, her daughter by the now-insane Dupr‚, Elmina lavishes attention on her informally adopted son, Geronte, a half-witted cripple who wears a filthy hen's feather stuck to his head. The boy may actually be a manifestation of a goblin, the Elf of CologneÄwho has been around since 1505 and will die when he reaches age 300 because of a curse. Though elegantly translated, Ortese's (The Iguana) ornate, convoluted sentences and multiple conflicting versions of the same event may try readers' patience. However, as a threnody for the death of kindness and mystery in the modern worldÄand of course for the linnetÄthis luxurious and fevered novel hits a perfect, bittersweet note. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Ortese, who died last year, won many Italian literary awards, including the Viareggio Prize. This novel, set during the closing years of the Enlightenment in late 18th-century Italy, tells the story of Prince de Neville and his ward, the penniless sculptor Alpert Dupre. Both come from the Low Countries and both fall in love with a glove-maker's daughter named Elmina while visiting the city of Naples. But why does Elmina not visit her dying mother? And why does Elmina marry to please her father, who just happens not to be her real father? Spells, magic lenses, dying children, and graveyard scenes abound, giving this novel an old-fashioned air. So do the chapter headings, for example, "De Neville departs, but without making peace. Elmina in a swoon. Further mention of the linnet." Ortese succeeds in capturing the lifestyle and texture of Italian life long ago, and her prose is rich and descriptive, but not many modern readers will have the patience to put up with the slow pace and melodramatic prose of this novel. For larger collections only.ÄDoris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.