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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Story of my Purity

by
Francesco Pacifico


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

To purchase The Story of my Purity



Title: The Story of my Purity
Author: Francesco Pacifico
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 292 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Story of my Purity - US
The Story of my Purity - UK
The Story of my Purity - Canada
The Story of my Purity - India
Histoire de mon innocence - France
Geschichte meiner Unschuld - Deutschland
Storia della mia purezza - Italia
La historia de mi pureza - España
  • Italian title: Storia della mia purezza
  • Translated by Stephen Twilley

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Our Assessment:

B : odd Italian-Houellebecqian novel, steeped in Catholicism

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 24/4/2013 Tibor Fischer


  From the Reviews:
  • "It could be that Pacifico's Italian has a luminosity that hasn't crossed over in translation, but in terms of content, the book doesn't amount to much. (...) The publicity material that accompanies a review copy is usually written by work-experience school leavers, so it's customary to put it straight in the bin, but the heap of endorsements collected here was a bracing reminder of how such effusions bear no actual relation to the book." - Tibor Fischer, The Guardian

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:

       The Story of my Purity is basically narrated by Piero Rosini. He's thirty years old and, as the numerous nicknames cum alter egos he adopts and is given in the novel -- Rosenzweil, Chewbacca -- suggest, he's not very sure of or comfortable in his own identity. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC in 2001 upended his world -- until then one of the casual enjoyment of an Italian youth from well-heeled circumstances:

Certainly, after 9/11 my world of ideas, of pleasure, of books, had collapsed a bit like the towers.
       He stops reading fiction -- indeed, he finds himself with an: "aversion to culture and especially to subcultures" -- and he turns to Catholicism, embracing it with complete devotion. He marries a good Catholic, Alice, too, and works as an editor for a conservative Catholic publisher, Non Possumus ('we cannot' -- alluding to the cry of the devoted Abitene's, 'we cannot live without Sundays') -- while his sister is a successful figure in the literary mainstream. Among the consequences of his transformation is that he also adopts a mindless form of anti-Semitism, and:
Having the Jews occupy the hot seat in my new cosmology represented not only a forbidden pleasure but also the opportunity to come to terms with those who shaped me, a list of singers, writers, artists, philosophers.
       The problem with his new lifestyle and philosophy is that while it offers a bit of a hold -- dependable, deep-rooted stability -- he's fundamentally bored by it, and he finds personal (including professional, and spiritual, and sexual, etc.) advancement of any sort impossible. With a well-to-do family in the background, a devoted wife, and a community of fellow-believers always there for him (on at least that religious level), he has a very sturdy safety net -- but he doesn't seem particularly happy with relying on it to the extent he does. And he doesn't know what to do with himself: the book opens at Christmas, 2005, when he wants to hit up his father for some money so he can open up his own publishing house, but with only the most indefinite plans for it his father barely even takes him seriously.
       For all his religious fervor, Piero seems also largely to only go through the religious motions (but that quite faithfully); thankfully, there's not much description of his Church-related experiences, as he seems as bored by them as readers likely would be. Indeed, he seems less a believer than a follower -- going along with something that provides some structure to his life but which he doesn't really comprehend (or care to comprehend).
       There's also the problem of sex, which Piero has trouble coming to grips with. On the one hand, he and his wife have more or less given up having sexual relations. On the other hand, his virginal sister-in-law's big breasts continue to remind him that there are some primal urges rumbling within him.
       Meanwhile, the book he is supposed to be editing for Non Possumus is one he realizes will be very controversial, as The Jewish Pope will claim that John Paul II had a Jewish mother and that he was under the sway of the followers of Jacob Frank -- to the extent that: "his 'Christianity with man at the center' may be nothing other than Frankism in disguise". Publication of such an argument will go down well in some conservative quarters, but Piero seems to realize that if he is associated with it his reputation will also be permanently tarred by it -- and for all his enthusiasm for the Catholic cause he clearly isn't that eager to stick his neck out that far.
       Yes, Piero has difficulty committing to anything: his publishers' ideology, even holy matrimony (yes, they married, but there's not much consummating going on, defeating a main (Catholic) purpose of marriage .....)
       Piero takes the childish way out and flees, getting a job in Paris -- a more or less fictional job -- and flailing about there, a bit more freely but no less haplessly. He makes some friends -- some women, a Jewish man -- but continues to be unable to make any sort of commitment. Some of the women there pretty much throw themselves at him, but he does his best to remain true to distant Alice (who stays behind in Rome), as they enjoy: "a relationship that was, as it were, esoteric, unintelligible to the profane". It's not clear how intelligible it is to him, either -- he seems to have relatively little invested in it, and seems to use it largely only as an excuse to avoid having to take any real action. And for all his Catholic purity, he doesn't have much of a problem taking up surfing for porn on the internet either.
       "Why are you so stuck ?" one of the women trying to seduce him asks. There seem to be myriad reasons -- yet few that convince as any sort of 'reason'. Piero is directionless, with one of the tracks he's following -- Catholicism -- an ill fit that he remains stuck on but which looks a lot like it's a train to nowhere.
       Pacifico, a generation younger than Michel Houellebecq, has written a Houellebecqian novel of contemporary Italian society, complete with an unsympathetic loser of a protagonist. Not that much happens, but Pacifico writes quite well and even if he's spinning his (or Piero's) wheels here, it's a reasonably good read -- of this sort. Elements are off-putting -- the anti-Semitism (which is presented as even more vacuous than usual -- which doesn't make it much more palatable), Piero's obsession with the superficial (we learn how tall many of the characters are, and physical details (notably 'tits') are given uncomfortable prominence here), and, throughout, poor Piero's bizarre and stifled sexual tension -- which makes for uncomfortable reading, but then that was surely Pacifico's intention (in imitation of Houellebecq). Billed by the American publishers as a comic novel, The Story of my Purity is anything but -- there's a bit of humor-that-makes-you-squirm, but Piero is distinctly and decidedly unfunny, a straight man in an absurd world (that he admittedly helps make more absurd in his wanderings).
       Pacifico disappoints with how he concludes Piero's attempt to find his way, offering the too-easy solution to all of Piero's problems in essentially throwing away his character at the end of the novel (though there's a bit of interesting writing in the presentation of that). Otherwise, The Story of my Purity is a somewhat limited but intriguing slice-of-contemporary-European-life novel, frustrating in the way Houellebecq's novels can be (and, mind you, Pacifico doesn't allow for anywhere near the 'action' Houellebecq does ...), especially in its underdeveloped aspects. Still, it's not without interest, and deserves more attention than it got on US/UK publication.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 August 2013

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Links:

The Story of my Purity: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Francesco Pacifico was born in 1977.

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© 2013 the complete review

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