Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: The Book of Human Skin

The Book of Human Skin
Michelle Lovric
Bloomsbury Publishing (2010), Hardcover, 512 pages

‘Hic Liber Cute Compactus Est’ (p. 143)

‘Why are we all doing our best to become angels? It is perhaps because we shall always have something shadowy in our consciences ...’ ( p. 459)

Books with the cover made of human skin, and behind this Gothic library there is Minguillo Fasan. Against this project of books of human skin there is an obstacle: Marcella, Minguillo’s sister.

The Book of Human Skin is narrated from five main characters’ points of view: Minguillo and his sister Marcella Fasan (a noble family of Venice), Gianni delle Boccole (House Fasan’s butler), Sor Loreta (nun in Arequipa’s convent, Peru`), and Doctor Santo Aldobrandini.
Although this book could be categorized as historical fiction, we can find other genres: horror, romance, and especially Gothic fiction.
In the background Michelle Lovric’s passion for Venice: ‘marbled water cradled in the shadow of a bridge, a palazzo seeming to sway in a web of fretwork, ...’ (p. 181) or ‘ the play of water reflections under bridges and the cries of seagulls at dawn.’ (p. 438)
And from this Venetian’s water reflections towards the old wet brick’s walls in the calle (an alley of water) the destiny follows a path of magic; so when Minguillo’s father writes to his wife about the insanity of their son, Minguillo intercepts the letter and ‘I (Minguillo) had barely finished scanning it (the letter) when a fictitious gust of wind carried it out of the window and away down the Grand Canal before any inquisitive monkey might count his toes.’ (p. 78) Randomness and magic change everything and give birth to a new story.

Minguillo Fasan talking about his books: ‘When I say I loved books, I mean that I loved not just the souls of my books but their bodies.’ (p. 39) or ‘Late at night, did Minguillo books of human leather talk among themselves?’ (p. 285) Minguillo a sadistic man remind the first pages of Les Chants de Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont: ‘One should let one’s fingernails grow for fifteen days. etc etc’ His dreams are collecting books of human skin and living for ever in Palazzo Espagnol.

Marcella Fasan is a patient sister whose Kafkian life goes from a tormented cohabitation in Palazzo Espagnol in Venice, to the hospital for lunatics, and finally in a convent in Peru`. She waits until her enemy (her brother) collapses; and again the human skin intervenes to correct imperfections: the small pox.

Gianni delle Boccole is depicted speaking a Celinian argot; an example: ‘so as not to draw saucespishon (= suspicion)’ (p. 393) He is the butler in Palazzo Espagnol and loves Marcella like a father.

Doctor Santo Aldobrandini explains why the human skin is so important: ‘Perhaps this is why I have always loved the skin: because it is both the story and the storyteller.’ (p. 21)

Sor Loreta hates her skin and body. She thinks to reach sainthood because of her behavior: drinking only vinegar and fighting every way of life outside the strict monastic rules. This character is surprising for her frankness and seemingly funny logical thinking.

A final note / quote: ‘Dio ha manda` l’om per (par) castigar l’om’; in my opinion a better translation could be: God created man to torment man. instead of God created man to shame man. (last page)

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