A fierce psychological drama, set in the Dolomite region of Italy. Italian novelist, screenwriter and director has written a very interesting and unique novel here with it’s simultaneous point of view of the two main characters: Manfred, a middle aged tour guide/lodge owner and Marina, a married teacher with a two year old son who is spending time alone in a rented apartment of which Manfred is the landlord. Marina is staying in the apartment while her husband is away on business. Manfred lives downstairs and is curious about Marina. Who is she? Why is she alone with the child? Thus begins the story which pits the two characters against one another in this complicated emotional drama.
Manfred comes from a family who grew up at the ski lodge in which he runs, often taking tourists on walking tours in the mountains. When we first meet him, we are already clued into his psychological damage, brought on at an early age when his mother ran off with an American tourist, abandoning her husband as well as Manfred and his two brothers. Manfred is a solitary man, stoic, often mean, and harbors a major grudge about women. Not only had his mother abandoned the family when he was a child, but his wife, Luna, had also left him, taking his children with him. So when he notices the nervous and absentminded Marina, who more often than not neglects her two year old son, it only reenforces the attitudes he learned from his father about women. “Mothers shouldn’t be allowed to raise children on their own” he once said, and after Manfred discovers the child asleep in his stroller out in the hallway while Marina “went to the bathroom”, he becomes incensed. He knocks on Marina’s door and is angry with her, and he lets her know his feelings about what he sees as major neglect of the child.
Marina, meanwhile, watches Manfred as he moves about the grounds of the apartment, making snap judgments about him, drawing the conclusion that he is a nasty man with a bad temper.
With the incident of the child on his mind, Manfred decides to invite Marina - along with a group of other tourists - on a mountain hike. Marina agrees but while on the hike, Manfred takes control of the child and walks off ahead of the group, expecting Marina to come running after him. She doesn’t - and this only reenforces his feelings about her neglect for the child. What kind of mother would let a stranger walk off with their two year old child?
Things come to a head one morning when he hears the child crying upstairs and Marina yelling at him to be quiet. There is a loud crash and suddenly the child stops crying. Having a bad feeling about it, he rushes upstairs to see what happened and finds the door locked. He bangs on the door and yells but Marina doesn’t open the door. Using his ice axe, he breaks open the door to discover the child lying on the floor, his head bleeding, surrounded by broken glass; wine, olive oil and blood streaking the floor - and no sign of Marina. He eventually finds her, hiding behind the door, and he kicks her, forces her up and demands to know what happened. Marina says the child climbed up on the table and fell. Manfred has other ideas but he rouses Marina from her panic and races the boy off to the hospital.
It is from this point in the novel where things get a little complicated, the psychological dance between Manfred and Marina. Each are in denial about their feelings for one another and their relationship becomes more and more volatile and intense. Manfred knows that Marina hit the child but Marina keeps on insisting that the child fell. Marina is afraid that Manfred intends to take the child away from her. The suspicion each has for one another provokes each of them to delve deeper into one another’s psychological make up, each drawing conclusions based on action, words, attitudes but the real reason for their seeming obsession with one another slowly becomes apparent as the novel progresses. When an unfortunate accident occurs, it brings Manfred and Marina closer to resolving this psychological dance.
The novel also tackles issues of family, abandonment, isolation (in which the Dolomite setting perfectly captures), parenthood and how something that happens in childhood can destroy innocence and scar one for life (the metaphor of Marina’s son’s head scar not lost on the reader - will he become “scarred” from the incident as he grows older?) The novel is also written from two points of view at once, alternating between Manfred and Marina’s thoughts - sometimes from one paragraph to the next - which makes a close reading vitally important.
This is a wonderful novel, one that I absolutely loved. Well written, erotic, sometimes surreal, and emotionally and psychologically complex. A highly recommended read.