Monday, 18 October 2010

Whose Serenissima is it anyway? – Michelle Lovric

Last weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing a stage with the wonderful Mary Hoffman at the Ilkley Festival. We were talking about the different ways in which we fictionalize Venice. And one of the questions that came up was this: ‘How do you both feel when you see yet another novel about Venice hitting the bookshop shelves?’

Neither of us owns Venice. We both earn our right to write about Italy novel by novel. But we did admit to a flicker of annoyance at books that cynically employ the undeniable commercial lustre of Venice to gild their lily – or to put a velvet bow on their dog.

Now I have returned from Ilkley to Italy … only to discover that Mary and I have both been thoroughly trumped in our attempts to write a properly Venetian Venice … perhaps. For a Venetian gondolier has just been and gone and published a novel.

Sad to tell, Angelo Tumino’s novel contains nothing of moonlight, romance or lapping waves. Invasione Negata takes the form of a diary of a widowed retired engineer who finds himself living in a condominium in the suburbs of Rome, surrounded by immigrants who speak other tongues, cook foreign foods – and persecute, rob and attack the native Italians.

Tumino, 36, claims that he is a gondolier only by economic necessity: his true calling is as a writer. He’s hoping that Invasione negata will lift him away from a life at the oar and into a properly literary existence in front of a computer.

Instead, the slim volume has so far propelled Tumino into controversy. The author claims that the book’s intention is to document the most profound fear that strikes the rich nations of the west – fear of the foreigner. He claims that the politicians are incapable of solving the problems and it is the ordinary citizens who pay the costs of clandestine immigration.

‘I would say it is a tale of metropolitan conflict,’ says Tumino.

What he not saying – according to La Nuova newspaper – is if he’s a member of the right-wing anti-immigration Lega Nord. But that’s not stopping others from labelling him that, and worse. The Indymedia Lombardia website has written a profile of Tumino entitled ‘The Nazi Gondolier’. And describes his work as ‘di chiaro stampo hitleriano’ – ‘of a clearly Hitlerian stamp’. But the site has been much criticized for the intemperance of its coverage, and in other places the novel and its writer have been highly praised.

Tumino protests that the character depicted in the novel is not a self portrait. He adds ‘Reading Stephen King, one might think that this is an author with psychological problems. But in fact he is a totally normal person.’

Invasione negata had its official launch at the fish market in Venice on October 12th, as its author (still) serves on the traghetto between Santa Sofia and Rialto.

In Tumino's top drawer are two other books – a collection of comic short stories – The Gondolier without a Gondola and American Gondolier, a science fiction story set in a Venice that has been bought up by the Americans and is inhabited by android gondoliers.

So is it still safe for Mary and me to go in the water, with our historical novels about Venice and Italy?


Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series starts in Venice, with City of Masks. The latest book in the series, City of Ships, is just published by Bloomsbury

Michelle Lovric's latest novels about Venice are The Book of Human Skin (Bloomsbury) for adults, and her children’s book, The Mourning Emporium, the sequel to The Undrowned Child, out on October 28th

Angelo Tumino’s website
gondola photo by Debbie Patterson


Book Maven said...

I'm not going to stop writing about Italy, and even specifically Venice, anytime soon because of Signor Tumino! Why, his published novel isn't even set in Venice! A wasted marketing opportunity at the very least.

I like your phrase about the foreign writer having to "earn the right" to fictionalise a country or city "novel by novel."

Because writing fiction is b****y hard work! The fact that someone lives in a place doesn't mean he or she will write a great novel about it (I can think of one glaring modern example! - no actually two) so why should NOT living in or having been born in a place disqualify one from doing so.

I'll take on that ondolier any day of the week and I bet you could take him too.

Joan Lennon said...

Someday I WILL write a novel set in Venice, because every time I go there the Venice-shaped hole in my heart starts to twang with words and scenes and characters ...

So be warned, world!

Katherine Langrish said...

I shall probably never write a novel set in Venice - but I do love reading them! Michelle's and Mary's of course - and Cornelia Funke's 'The Thief Lord' too. But what do you real Venetians think of that one?

Miriam Halahmy said...

Wonderful blogpost and so interesting and of course, neither of you will EVER stop writing about Venice. The world would be a poorer place.

karen ball said...

I soooo wish I had been in Ilkley rather than London so that I could have heard your talk. It sounds fascinating.

Rhiannon said...

How about this question. Does one recommend a novel about Venice to the author of novels about Venice. I'm never sure if the author in question will be thrilled to receive a recommendation (or birthday present) or grouch and growl about someone else writing books in the place she loves. ;)

Stroppy Author said...

Been in his traghetto many times, scattered some of B's mother's ashes from his traghetto, in fact.... How strange. Thank you, Michelle :-)

michelle lovric said...

Thank you all for the lovely comments.

Some answers ...
Mary - oh yes, game ON with Signor Tumino!

Joan - keeping listening to those voices. You may need to spend a week or two in Venice to transcribe them ... what Venice needs is good writers like you to record a living, breathing Venice, not those who just want to write her obituary. Starting with Byron.

Kath - interesting, I've never spoken to a Venetian who's read the Funke, good as it is (though the film was disappointing)

Miriam - thank you! And absolutely no intention of stopping. There's always another Venice to write about, anyway.

Karen - wish you'd been there too. Mary and I hope to do more things together, and meantime I'm doing a solo event at the Italian Cultural Institute on Dec 6, on this topic exactly.

Rhiannon - very difficult problem, that discriminating educated reader. I can look into gondolier vouchers for you, or a five year supply of Gondolier Calendars.

Anne - did you know it's technically illegal to scatter ashes in the GC? Not that that's stopped me, either. It is a beautiful and satisfying thing to do. And I've asked for the same in my own will. A French family accidentally dropped a whole casket in the water a few years ago, and it was found floating down by Santa Lucia, I believe.

Angelo Tumino said...

Hei girls! I am Angelo Tumino, the gondolier who wrote "Invasione Negata". This is the first time I find something in nglish about me. I am so happy becuse you are allwomen!!! Thanks!!! If you have questions, I will be glad to answer. You can lso write on the forum of my site:

astrid said...

Oh dear, am also guilty of writing about Venice, without being a true inhabitant (although one son trains to university there and I am a gallery-goer). I swear it was only a scene, very temporary and unexpected, the character just went there of her own accord. My novel 'The Divorced Lady's Companion to Italy' - don't groan there - speaks of transition, accompanied by a sly attack on Berlusconi's go-go-girl culture (your gondoliere being yet another sore symptom)and the usual food and fashion trappings. Plus a waif model and bi-sex Hong Kong benefactor and is mostly set in Milan. Very happy to join the fray and good luck to Michelle for the new book launch. My name is Catherine and my blog is and the novel is out June 1st 2011
ciao ciao