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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Badfellas
(Malavita)

by
Tonino Benacquista


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

To purchase Malavita



Title: Badfellas
Author: Tonino Benacquista
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 283 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Malavita - US
Badfellas - UK
Malavita - Canada
Malavita - Canada (French)
Badfellas - India
Malavita - France
Malavita - Italia
Malavita - España
  • French title: Malavita
  • UK title: Badfellas
  • US title: Malavita
  • Translated by Emily Read
  • Malavita was made into a film (re)named The Family in 2013, directed by Luc Besson and starring Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, and Michelle Pfeiffer

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Our Assessment:

B : fun idea; reasonably well done

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 18/12/2009 Laura Wilson
Publishers Weekly . 27/5/2013 .
TLS . 8/1/2010 Chris Moss


  From the Reviews:
  • "The latest offering from critically acclaimed French author Benacquista manages to be savagely funny and surprisingly touching, as the protagonist, a man not given to self-reflection, attempts to make sense of his life while dodging the bullets." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Snappy writing and brisk pacing add up to a comic crime novel Elmore Leonard fans would relish." - Publishers Weekly

  • "We can give Benacquista some credit for seeking to make a hero out of a mafioso rat, even though he is taking his cue from the Martin Scorsese film, Goodfellas (.....) Benacquista is a good storyteller, with a gift for character and setting, but here he gets caught up in the many twists of his madcap plot and is ultimately unable to write himself out of it." - Chris Moss, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Badfellas (published in the US under its original (French) title, Malavita -- another name for the Mafia, as well as the name of the family dog) has an entertaining premise: when American Mafia clan boss Giovanni Manzoni turned state's evidence and helped take down three east coast gang leaders he became the Mafia's most wanted, a stool pigeon they would do anything to catch. With a twenty million dollar bounty on his head, even the witness protection program was hard-pressed to offer adequate protection for him and his family -- so eventually they figured the only safe place to stow him away was in Europe. Not Italy -- his first and preferred choice -- but France.
       For several years the Blakes -- as the family is now called -- have lived in France, and the novel opens with them relocating to the quiet Normandy town of Cholong-sur-Avre. Giovanni is now Frederick -- Fred. He has a wife, Maggie, and they have two kids: now seventeen year-old Belle, and fourteen year-old Warren. Also a constant presence: the FBI, across the street, following them and their every move (or at least trying to).
       The Manzonis have been in Europe, as the Blakes, for a few years now, but old roots and habits die hard, and the little mafiosi in each of them still rears its head at times -- to violent/comic effect as they adjust to their new surroundings and school. Fred also takes this opportunity to try to start writing his memoirs -- despite the fact that, as his wife reminds him: "You can hardly even read ! You couldn't even write down the things you say !" -- and tells the locals he's working on a book about the Normandy landings (given his complete ignorance about these, maybe not the best cover-story). Of course, when the local film club shows Goodfellas -- a film Fred detests, for showing the Mafia as it really was (since: "Without the myth, all that was left was stupidity and cruelty") -- Fred can't help but regale the locals with his insider knowledge.
       Belle and Warren are also less than pleased with their current situation, and each have other ambitions. The need for secrecy -- the Blakes have to be careful to avoid even getting their pictures in a local paper -- and their false identities make it difficult, but they put their own plans into motion. Meanwhile, Maggie tries to stay on the good side of the FBI, and also gets involved in some local activities. Needless to say, everything comes to a head, and everyone has a role to play in it.
       The twenty million dollar bounty -- and that whole matter of restoring honor -- naturally means the Blakes are never completely safe. And, despite all their precautions, a few wrong and too familiar words and a round-the-world series of small actions and coincidences leads the Mob straight to them. Of course, the story culminates in the inevitable showdown.
       Benacquista does a pretty decent job of presenting the Blakes in this bucolic town with his understated presentation of the havoc they wreak (until the end, when everything of course gets rather out of hand). Each of the family members is fairly well-drawn, and their relationships -- with each other, with the locals, and with their FBI minders -- make for some interesting dynamics. The occasional digression -- the words that lead the Mob to the small town, and the long voyage those words go on, or the summoning and then use of Ben, Fred's nephew and the one family member who managed to avoid getting caught up in the post-trial fall-out -- are reasonably amusing, but feel a bit tangential. Obviously, also, a lot of this is far from realistic, but Benacquista shows a nice touch in not playing it just for loud laughs. Still, he never seems to get an entirely comfortable handle on the story as a whole, which feels a bit puffed and misshapen.
       The premise, and what Benacquista does with it, are enough to carry this decent comic thriller - and it's certainly also promising screen material (and with Robert De Niro as Fred presumably worth the ticket price just for the Goodfellas-watching scene alone).

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 March 2013

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Links:

Badfellas (Malavita): Reviews: The Family - the movie: Other books by Tonino Benacquista under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Tonino Benacquista was born in 1961.

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© 2013 the complete review

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