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Nicola Lagioia puts the boot into modern Italy

Ferocity, his prize-winning novel, is a fierce indictment of the south: of a society, and family, rotten to the core

14 October 2017

9:00 AM

14 October 2017

9:00 AM

Ferocity Nicola Lagioia, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

Europa Editions, pp.464, £13.99

A young woman, naked and covered in blood, totters numbly down a night road. A driver spots her in his headlights and swerves. Was he the last to see Clara alive? Did she jump to her death from a parking structure, as stated in the report? Are her rich family trying to hide more than their property deals? What was the preternatural bond that tied together Clara and her brother? Why did she let various older men seduce her? Who is running a Twitter account in her name, having begun with ‘I didn’t kill myself’? These questions will keep haunting you even after you’ve turned the last page of Ferocity. The novel, awarded the prestigious Strega Prize in 2015, ticks all the boxes of a thriller while also being a masterfully written, baroque, many-faceted depiction of modern Italy.

The plot hinges on the figure of Clara, a strong presence in the life of everyone who has ever crossed her path, reconstructed from ‘an elusive compound of other people’s thoughts’. Constantly cutting between viewpoints, the narrative darts from the past to the present and back, often within the same passage, demanding — as any good book should — your full attention. You know you can’t afford to miss a single piece of the puzzle. Thanks to such deep immersion, scenes of life in Italy’s south, with its unbridgeable gap between the haves and the have-nots, remain imprinted in your mind. Eager to find out what it was the driver saw on that night, you hang on to every word of his story, which unfolds in a world where ‘even dignity sprang out of an abuse of power’.


‘Poverty is disgusting’ in this world, ‘but nothing is more disgusting than the needy themselves’. Flitting between fashion shops and lavish parties, Clara and her suitors ‘glittered in a cruel, gruesome light … as if they’d popped right out of a sewer main’; a strong metaphor for a region plagued by environmental catastrophes, the authorities turning a blind eye to their cause.

Social injustice goes hand in hand with the ancient conflict of generations. The family at the book’s centre is being torn by tragedies of Greek proportions, and so is the entire society: the old won’t cede power, while the young are desperate to break free of their hold. This way destruction lies. Well before you learn how Clara met her end, you realise that no report would be able to paint a full picture of the forces that killed her.

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