A couple of book reviews, and related links ... 1. "The Late Mattia Pascal" ("Il fu Mattia Pascal") by Luigi Pirandello <http://www.amazon.com/Late-Mattia-Pascal/dp/1590171152> Mattia Pascal is not a lucky man. His father died when he was four, leaving behind a large estate consisting of sevarl properties. His mother entrusted the management of the estate to a business partner of her late husband, Battista Malagna. But the "Mole", as Malagna became known, gradually defrauds the family of its inheritance. Mattia falls in love with Oliva. He thinks another girl, Romilda, would be a good match for his friend, Pomino. The two boys often go to Romilda's house. The Mole is also looking for a new wife, and starts courting Oliva. Romilda is not interested in Pomino, preferring Mattia. When she gets pregnant, poor Mattia's die is cast: he is forced to marry Romilda, while Oliva ends up marrying the Mole. Mattia moves in with Romilda and her mother. He gets nagged constantly by both women. Romilda gives birth to twin girls, but one of them is still-born. The other daughter dies a few months later. To make things worse for poor Mattia, his own mother dies. Up until now you'd get the impression that his life is a veritable series of unfortunate events. One day Mattia decides to get away from his troubles: he takes the train to the French Riviera without telling anyone. He's not a gambler but is drawn to Monte Carlo, in particular the roulette tables. He has an incredible winning streak, and makes a small fortune. He toys with the idea of running away to America, but decides to go back home. While at the train station and flicking through a newspaper, he reads an item about a suicide - his own apparently! A man was found dead in his home town. His wife had earlier reported him missing, and when the badly decomposed body of a drowned man was found, she mistakenly identified it as that of Mattia. Mattia sees this a an opportunity to break free from his misery, and he can starts his life over. He adopts a new name, Adriano Meis, and makes up a new life story. He uses his winnings to live it up around Italy. But eventually he sees that this lifestyle cannot last, so he settles in Naples where he rents a room from a family. Mattia's second life as Adriano starts to lose its appeal. He realises he cannot explain his wealth, and he cannot legally marry a woman he's fallen in love with (and who has fallen in love with him). The woman's father dabbles in metaphysics, which appeals to Mattia/Adriano since he feels he is himself living "beyond the grave". The woman's brother-in- law is suspicious and starts causing trouble for "Adriano". When "Adriano" is wrongly accused of making advances to the girlfriend of a volatile artist, he is challenged to a duel. He sees this crisis as a way to stop living a lie as "Adriano". To avoid the duel, he "kills off" his second persona by faking suicide. Then, reborn as Mattia Pascal, he can return home to reclaim his identity and confront his wife. But he is in for more surprises when he gets there. The issue of identity provides the philosophical theme for the story. While Mattia's life appears very tragic, the style of the book is actually rather comical. I really enjoyed the first half of the story up until Mattia rents the room in Naples. The account of his life with the slightly dysfunctional family was good but didn't work as well for me. Mattia's return home rounds out an interesting and amusing book. The book was written over a hundred years ago. The author, Luigi Pirandello, is better know for his plays, and won a Nobel-prize for Literature. An English translation is available online at: <http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300381.txt> 2. "Boredom" ("La noia") by Alberto Moravia <http://www.amazon.com/Boredom/dp/1590171217> As the title suggests, this is a story about boredom. In particular, it is about the boredom of an individual named Dino, and the role it plays in his life. In the prologue, the narrator (Dino) describes his concept of boredom: "Boredom to me consists in a kind of insufficiency, or inadequacy, or lack of reality... the feeling of boredom originates in a sense of the absurdity of a reality which is insufficient, or anyhow unable, to convince of its own effective existence." Dino didn't get good grades when he was at school. He blames this on boredom. Once he started a school project, a universal history "according to boredom". The central argument was that history was the consequence of boredom: "In the beginning was boredom, commonly called chaos. God, bored with boredom, created the earth, the sky, ..., Adam and Eve; and the latter, bored in their turn in paradise, ate the forbidden fruit. God became bored with them and drove them out of Eden; Cain, bored with Abel, killed him; ... God, once again bored with mankind, destroyed the world by means of the Flood; ... The great empires - Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman - rose out of boredom and fell again in boredom..." etc. Of course, Dino grew bored with the whole project and abandoned it before completing it. His widowed mother says they are not just rich, but in fact they are very rich. Dino doesn't want to be rich. Dino is a painter. He finds he can no longer paint: boredom has made it impossible for him to accept the reality of anything, even a simple drinking glass. He visits his mother's villa on his 35th birthday. She wants him to move back home, and gives him an expensive sports car as a present. Initially he says he will move back, but then changes his mind and flees. A beautiful teenage girl (Cecilia), who has been modelling for another artist, offers to be a model for Dino. Maybe Dino thought she could be his muse, so he accepts. But she turns out to be more of a nymphet. Dino falls for Cecilia, but not long after seeing him, he discovers that she has started going out with an actor. Despite this, Dino finds her intriguing, and continues to see her. Later he wants to break it off with Cecilia, but he can only do this after he has truly "possessed" her. By "possessing" her, he can then become bored with her. Once he has become bored with her, he will be content to ditch her. He tries a few things to "possess" Cecilia, including paying for her visits in the hope of rendering her vain and mercenary. But this backfires when she says she treats the payments as gifts and has no expectation of receiving anything. Eventually he devises a cunning plan: "... possibly the only way I could set myself free from Cecilia - that is, possess her truly and consequently become bored with her - was to marry her. I had not succeeded in becoming bored with Cecilia by having her as a mistress; but I was almost sure that I would be bored with her once she had become my wife... full of domestic and social occupations, satisfied, without mystery; that in fact she would become, as they say, 'settled.'" The middle part of the book got a bit repetitive, but overall it was another fascinating and in-depth psychological portrait of a tortured soul by Alberto Moravia, author of "Contempt" and "The Conformist". 3. Related links: * "Polish man struggles to return from the dead" <http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/01/30/2149421.htm> "Piotr Kucy, from the city of Polkowice in south-west Poland, was wrongly identified by authorities last August as a drowned man, only to show up a few days after his own funeral." * "A brief history of boredom" <http://www.conceptualdevice.com/2007/08/a-brief-history-of-boredom.html> An interesting essay, and includes a reference to Moravia's novel.