Monday 7 September 2015

The Sense of an Elephant by Marco Missiroli

Pietro arrives in Milan with a battered suitcase full of memories, to take up a new job as concierge. 
Living in his palazzo are lost and eccentric souls: Poppi, a lawyer; Luciana and her son; and Luca, a doctor, whose wife Viola holds a secret that could destroy their marriage. 
Right from the start Pietro has a special interest in Luca and his family, and soon he's letting himself into their apartment while everyone is out. 
As his story emerges in snatches and flashbacks, each prompted by his case of treasures, we begin to find out what has brought him to be guardian here, so late in his life . . .
For readers of The Elegance of the Hedgehog and The Yacoubian Building, this is an atmospheric and unforgettable novel about the ties that bind.

The Sense of an Elephant by Marco Missiroli is published on 10 September 2015 as a Paperback Original by Picador.  Translated from the Italian by Stephen Twilley.

This novel became a phenomenal word of mouth success in Italy in 2012 owing to bookseller, bloggers, librarians and critics talking about it and passing copies around.

the sense of an elephant
Definition: elephants "take care of the herd without regard to the kinship"
(p.65 The Sense of an Elephant) 

Pietro is the new concierge at an apartment block in Milan. He's not a young man,nor he is he experienced in such a job. Pietro used to be a priest. It's not clear from the beginning just why or how Pietro has made this vast change, but gradually his story is uncovered.

The reader is gently introduced to the inhabitants of the apartments through Pietro's dealings with them. The Martini family, the lawyer Poppi, doctor Luca and his wife and Luciana and her man-child son are all brought to life vividly by the pen of Missiroli.  It is the Martini family that hold the biggest draw for Pietro, and it soon becomes clear that this link is the reason that Pietro is now a concierge and no longer a priest.

This really is a cast of wonderfully drawn characters who lead the story so very well. Coupled with the present day are flashbacks to events that happened in the past, events that create such a strong bond between the two strands of the story.

There is an overriding theme of death and departure, and whilst that may sound depressing, it really isn't. There are scenes and dialogue that are breathtakingly beautiful, there are events that will make the reader stop and contemplate their own life, and maybe their own death.

These characters love and they care, they are an eclectic mix of unusual people but are bound together in the care of Pietro who really does "take care of his herd".

Quiet, gentle and compassionate, The Sense of an Elephant is a book that can be read quickly, yet its message, and most importantly its characters will remain, fluttering around your head for quite some time after the final page is turned.

With thanks to Kate from Picador who sent my copy for review.
Marco Missiroli was born in Rimini, Italy. 

He is the author of the prize-winning novels Senza Coda, Il Buio Addossoand Bianco

The Sense of an Elephant was awarded the prestigious Campiello Prize in 2012.

Marco writes for the culture pages of Corriere della Sera, and for Vanity Fair.


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