Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 26, 2021

The Other End of the Line, by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Quite by accident, during Refugee Week, I found myself reading a novel with a subplot about Syrian refugees.   A friend of mine with reading tastes somewhat different to mine, mentioned the author Andrea Camilleri and was astonished that I had never heard of him.  Although he writes crime novels, she made his books sound irresistible because of the Italian setting, and the detective’s devotion to Italian cuisine.  And since I do like Donna Leon’s Brunetti mystery series because they’re set in Venice, I found one of the Inspector Montalbano Mysteries at the library…

The crime is a murder and there are the usual relationship issues, red herrings, and tiresome senior officers and incompetents, that are the staples of crime fiction.  But the subplot, in which the Vigàta police force are having to cope with hundreds of refugees arriving on the Sicilian coast, rings true.  Up all night trying to keep order when there are no reinforcements to enable the ordinary work of policing to go on, is all the more difficult because Inspector Montalbano doesn’t agree with the EU treatment of the refugees.

Fortunately when he explains things to his girlfriend Livia who lives in Boccadasse and doesn’t have a clear sense of just how dramatic things are, she agrees to help. ‘Lately,’ he says…

the migrant landings on our coasts are more punctual than the bus from Montelusa.  They come by the hundreds every single night.  No matter the weather.  Men, women, children, old people.  Freezing, starving, thirsty and frightened. And in need of everything.  Every single one of us at the station is busy twenty-four hours a day trying to manage these arrivals.  And in town people have formed committees of volunteers who collect living necessities, cook warm meals, provide clothing, shoes and blankets.  Beba directs one of these committees.  Do you feel up to lending her a hand?

‘Of course’, said Livia. (p.8)

Of course.  It really is quite simple…

Camilleri (1925-2019) may have been a prolific writer of genre fiction, but he was an author with a heart and he used fame and popularity to raise serious issues.

Author: Andrea Camilleri
Title: The Other End of the Line  (L’altro capo del filo)
Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli
Publisher: Mantle, Pan Macmillan, 2019, first published 2016
ISBN: 9781529001822, pbk., 297 pages
Source: Kingston Library

 


Responses

  1. I’ve read a lot of Camilleri (listened to while working) though not this one that I remember. I think he identifies as Sicilian rather than Italian, and has an interesting love life while his girlfriend lives on the mainland.

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  2. Hi Lisa
    I am glad you have discovered Andrea Camillari. He has been one of my favourites among a group of “intelligent crime writers” as I like to call them, who use crime fiction as a vehicle to write about more serious societal issues. These range from the popular but hugely literate Donna Leon to the more sober and gritty Michael Dibdin and Philip Kerr. Even Umberto Eco famously used crime fiction as a platform to explore more serious general issues. I find most of Camillari’s writing well worth reading, and my absolute favourites are The Hunting Season, The Potter’s Field and Game of Mirrors. Generally, I find his later books more satisfying than the earlier ones, and he did have a decade long break in the middle of his Montalbano sequence. Part of his appeal to me is his insistence that he is a Sicilian first and an Italian second. His strong regional roots underlie his particular voice. The Other End of the Line was one of his last books and by no means the best , but still many levels above the average crime novel, as you have noted. I only wish that my Italian was good enough for me to read the original books rather than the Penguin translations.
    Cheers
    Chris

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  3. Chris

    Ah. But he didn’t write in Italian. He wrote in his version of Sicilian, a “flexible” language respecting the various local dialects of Sicilian. A Sicilian friend of mine from Catania could tell what part of Sicily others were from by listening to their speech. If one has some Italian though, there is a Camilleri Linguaggio on the web

    http://www.vigata.org/dizionario/camilleri_linguaggio.html

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  4. My apologies for the late reply: I was away in Port Fairy this weekend for the LitFest, and was expecting to have Internet access but it was sooooo sloooooow that it was worse than useless (and certainly not worth paying extra for).

    Starting with Bill’s and Jane’s comment, Well, that’s interesting about his identification with Sicily, but my source of info about authors I know nothing about is the book itself and Wikipedia. I don’t have time or inclination to do more than that because this is after all, just a blog. (WP, FWIW, says that the series is written in Italian but with a substantial sprinkling of Sicilian phrases and grammar. Maybe experts or local would differ.)

    But Chris, I am sorry to disappoint, my discovery of this author begins and ends here. I wouldn’t have bothered to finish this—not even to please my friend—if not for the refugee subplot coinciding with Refugee Week.

    Just not my kind of book but since he has legions of fans, I’m sure my opinion won’t matter a scrap!

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  5. I really enjoy the tv adaptation of these novels although I’ve never read the books. A Sicilian friend told me she really liked the books and the tv series because they showed a Sicily she recognised.

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    • We all love to see our own places on screen and in books!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the Inspector Montalbano novels and often read them in the summer as relatively light, wind-down reads. As you mentioned in your intro, the focus on food and wine is an integral component of the books. A few years ago, the Bocca Di Lupo restaurant in central London held a series of literary lunches using menus from a few of the individual books. Sadly, I couldn’t make any of the dates, but they must have been such treats!

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    • There’s a bookseller me who does something similar, though with different books. She does a monthly dinner (or did, pre Covid), and the menu is always based on food that is mentioned in whatever the featured author has included in her book:)

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  7. Maybe this wouldn’t be a match for me either, but I’m glad to see so many writers stretching the conventions of genre and raising matters of concern in unexpected venues!

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