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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Margherita Dolce Vita

by
Stefano Benni


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Margherita Dolce Vita



Title: Margherita Dolce Vita
Author: Stefano Benni
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 226 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Margherita Dolce Vita - US
Margherita Dolce Vita - UK
Margherita Dolce Vita - Canada
  • Italian title: Margherita Dolcevita
  • Translated by Antony Shugaar

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Our Assessment:

B : spirited, and the approach is appealing enough, but not quite sufficiently sustained

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 30/12/2006 Jonathan Coe
The Independent A- 17/1/2007 Shaun Whiteside
New Statesman . 11/12/2006 Sarah Birke
The NY Sun . 29/11/2006 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/2/2007 Andrew Ervin
San Francisco Chronicle . 27/10/2006 Elsbeth Lindner
Sunday Telegraph A 7/1/2007 Harriet Paterson


  From the Reviews:
  • "Margherita Dolce Vita comes garlanded with a cover quotation from Dario Fo, and indeed there are plenty of touches here that call to mind Fo's exuberant merging of farce and satire. Most of all, though, I was reminded of the films of Jacques Tati -- particularly Mon Oncle, which also pits the forces of childlike spontaneity and innocence against an adult world that is seen as sterile, unfeeling and in corrupt thrall to technological change." - Jonathan Coe, The Guardian

  • "This plunge into blackness is too abrupt, but the journey has been fun. Margherita is a hugely engaging character, and the novel trips along in a lively jumble of jokes, puns and neologisms that must have presented a huge challenge to the translator, and to which Anthony Shugaar has risen with aplomb. Imagine an episode of The Simpsons scripted by Italo Calvino. If that sounds even vaguely appealing, then you're going to love Margherita Dolce Vita." - Shaun Whiteside, The Independent

  • "In the satirical tones that have made Benni so popular in Italy, the novel is a tirade against a world brainwashed by meaningless jargon and excessive consumption. It is surreal, droll and makes you want to settle down with bread and dripping to listen to the wireless." - Sarah Birke, New Statesman

  • "Cynical as she may be, Margherita finally pits herself against a slew of enemies whose chief crime, superficially, is their grim adulthood. Like so many child protagonists, she becomes an avatar of natural happiness, facing an array of anti-environmentalist bores. Mr. Benni's plot weaves a web of conspiracy and unjust oppression reminiscent of Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, and much like that film, Margherita Dolce Vita ends with inconclusive violence that makes everything that preceded it feel thin." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "Thanks to Stefano Benni and his translator, Antony Shugaar, we have a renewed appreciation of the imagination's ability to free us from our increasingly mundane surroundings." - Andrew Ervin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This unhinged, doomsday-predicting wolf of a satire, dressed in the cuddly sheep's clothing of a teen fairytale, contains much that would charm Italy's zany chief political farceur. Benni's plot conjures up a gruesome family of fascist, consumerist, exploitative wing nuts who descend on and brainwash a more averagely lunatic Italian family, and the world is only saved -- if saved it is -- by the good graces of 14 1/2-year-old Margherita, a sassy specialist in bad poetry, with a weak heart and a friend who is a ghost. (...) Readers will have to make their own judgments about how many layers of symbolic weight to pile on this wispily exuberant offering." - Elsbeth Lindner, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Just the thing to wake you from wintry hibernation, this book is a firecracker. The world of Margherita Dolce Vita jumps from the page into three-dimensional life, fizzing with wit and wisdom. (...) What makes this such an exhilarating ride is the language, full of zip and zing, in a tremendous translation by Anthony Shugaar." - Harriet Paterson, Sunday Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Margherita Dolce Vita is narrated by the somewhat chubby Margherita, a fourteen-year-old girl with a heart problem -- "It's nothing serious: my cardiologist, Dr. Heartthrob, says one of these days we may have to do a minor operation, with perhaps a little probe or perhaps just a teeny-weeny heart transplant" -- and a zany, lovable family. There's grandpa in the attic, keeping his eye on things with a spyglass, soap-opera obsessed Mamma (who smokes imaginary cigarettes), retired and balding dad Fausto, "a public defender of objects" who treasures what others throw away, and Margherita's two brothers. And the catadogue, Sleepy ("a genuine catalogue of every breed of dog and species of animal (and possibly plant) that has ever lived on planet Earth"). A typical atypical jolly Italian family.
       Margherita is a creative young girl, too (playing, at near-fifteen, younger than most of her urban contemporaries), a free spirit who fits right in this family -- which itself doesn't fit completely in with modern times and big city ambitions. They don't live in a pastoral idyll, but at least far enough removed from most of the everyday rat-race so as not to be overwhelmed by it. Indeed, in their neck of the woods there are still gypsies nearby, and there's still farming.
       They're not cynical, but lament what the world is coming to:

Oh, my father sighs, if only we had a screwdriver that could unscrew wrongheaded ideas; if only we had a hammer to drive home good intentions; if only we had a pipe wrench to tighten hearts in everlasting love; a saw that we could use to make a clean cut with the past !
       Yes, it's that kind of book, too, with that kind of writing -- though Benni manages to keep Margherita's voice in check most of the way: there are a few silly expositions, but the narrative moves along fast enough, and with enough variations that it's not too hard to take.
       Things change when the Del Benes family builds a home next door and moves in. What they build is actually a black cube, with FakeView screens instead of windows (projecting what the inhabitants want those outside to see, rather than what's actually inside) and filtered air. They seem friendly enough, but they have strong opinions about the way things should be. And there are a lot of things they can't stand, from dust to those without proper work-permits.
       While Margherita is barely swayed, her parents and older brother fall completely under the Del Benes' spell -- even after bad things start happening. The gypsies disappear, grandpa gets run down and carted off to hospital. Conformity and civic pride of a particularly ugly sort are what matters to the Del Benes family -- and soon enough to most of Margherita's family.
       Other black cubes are going up nearby as well: there's a bigger plan in motion, and it takes a while for Margherita to get near the truth. But the suggestion is, of course, from near the first, not so much a vision of the future as a return to a specific past -- most obvious when Margherita sees the dark silhouettes of her father, brother, and neighbour:
     Men without women, strong and well armed. The breed of the future.
       The sweep from law-and-order platitudes to fascist reality -- a world of: "New, sophisticated weapons, but old, age-old, crude lies" -- comes almost quicker than anyone can see it -- but Benni also sees to it that good at least confronts evil, Margherita Dolce Vita culminating in one last burst of denial.
       It's an odd mix of the sinister and comic. Margherita's style -- playful, and with a relatively short attention-span -- is entertaining but occasionally annoying (the latter accentuated by the obvious translation-difficulties with some of the (word-)play). Benni doesn't quite come to grips with all the serious implications of his scenario (and Margherita's naïveté isn't an adequate excuse for that), but it's still a fairly appealing rollicking read

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Links:

Margherita Dolce Vita: Reviews: Stefano Benni: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Stefano Benni was born in 1947

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© 2006-2009 the complete review

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