Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 12, 2021

Three O’clock in the Morning, by Gianrico Carofiglio, translated by Howard Curtis

To be honest, as I always try to be here, I don’t know what the fuss is about this novel.  Carofiglio is apparently a best-selling author in Italy.

This is the blurb:

Antonio is on the cusp of adulthood, trying to work out who to be and what to do. His father, once a brilliant mathematician, hasn’t figured much in his son’s life since the divorce from Antonio’s mother, a beautiful and elusive woman. A diagnosis of epilepsy and hope for a cure takes father and son to Marseille, where they must spend two days and two nights together, without sleep. In a foreign city, under strained circumstances, they get to know each other and connect for the first time.

Elegant, warm and tender, set against the vivid backdrop of 1980s Marseille and its beautiful calanquesThree O’Clock in the Morning is an unforgettable story about illusions and regret, about talent and the passage of time and, most of all, about love.

Three O’clock in the Morning is just another *yawn* relationship story, about a father and an adolescent son reconnecting when they’ve been somewhat estranged after the marital breakdown some years before.   Over a 48 hour period without sleep (for a ridiculous reason) they have deep-and-meaningful conversations.  They eat, they go to bars, a party and they visit a porn shop in a Marseilles for which some might feel nostalgia.  It’s not entirely plotless. Other things happen that I won’t mention in order to avoid spoilers.

It’s another book with the central message is that it’s a good idea to communicate.

It’s another book that shows that, no, we’re not very good at it.

It’s possibly a fantasy depicting the author’s yearning for a similar kind of father-son relationship, either as a father himself or as a son.  A could-have-been— should-have-been— so different version of his own or his father’s failures.

Is that all there is?  Have I missed something?

(I did notice the inclusion of a character making racist remarks about the advent of people of colour in Marseilles. Unnecessary, IMO).

(I also noticed the shame attributed to the initial diagnosis, and that there is no need to address this shaming because lo! the boy is cured.)

The reviewer at Kirkus Reviews thinks differently:

Here those dark nights arrive with shimmering, unforced beauty, filling the pages with jagged moonlight like the finest neorealist film.

A journey by foot: crisp, lean, yet quietly mournful.

You can read an excerpt here, to see what you think…

Onto the next book!

Author: Gianrico Carofiglio
Title: Three O’clock in the Morning (Le tre del amttino)
Translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2021, first published in 2017
ISBN: 9781922268792, pbk., 212 pages
Source: Kingston Library


  1. Wow! Certainly very pedestrian writing!
    I haven’t read the book in Italian. It could be poor translating, but I don’t think so. The prose is as pretentious as the fictional boy is.
    I read a fair number of Italians novels in the original and there is as much poor writing published in Italian as there is in English. This isn’t one I will be reading. But I’m a bit of an outlier on this, as I am decidedly not a fan of Ferrante, which has become almost heresy!


    • Your comment is interesting: the translator’s note at the back talks about how this author “is a writer preoccupied with language , with how it is used, and how it should be used.” He’s written a series of legal thrillers, it says, which made him famous, and has published essays examining “how words can be misused to manipulate and distort the truth, especially in the law and politics”. He champions “clarity in language, and his own prose […] is direct, limpid, and unambiguous.”
      Well, maybe. But IMHO we got the memo about poor communication between fathers and sons a long time ago…
      I liked the first couple of Ferrantes, and then I was bored…


  2. At last! One I can resist :-)


  3. Well. I read the extract and am completely underwhelmed. Thanks for reading this so I don’t have to!!


    • You know what makes me cross? Women are grossly underrepresented in translation, and then a book like this gets chosen, published and promoted…

      Liked by 1 person

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