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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Natural Disorder of Things

Andrea Canobbio

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To purchase The Natural Disorder of Things

Title: The Natural Disorder of Things
Author: Andrea Canobbio
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 260 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Natural Disorder of Things - US
The Natural Disorder of Things - UK
The Natural Disorder of Things - Canada
Le désordre naturel des choses - France
Der Garten - Deutschland
Il naturale disordine delle cose - Italia
El natural desorden de las cosas - España
  • Italian title: Il naturale disordine delle cose
  • Translated by Abigail Asher

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing contemporary Italian family-tale, but a bit to much of a garden-maze

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly . 14/7/2006 Karen Karbo
The LA Times . 12/7/2006 Tim Rutten
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 23/6/2005 Steffen Richter
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/9/2006 Vendela Vida

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) compelling, entirely adult literary thriller." - Karen Karbo, Entertainment Weekly

  • "One of the intriguing aspects of Canobbio's novel is its evocation of contemporary Italy, where prosperity and demographic change have remade a tradition-bound society. (...) His narrative comes to a breakneck, virtually cinematic conclusion that knots all the plot's threads into a convincing, though shockingly unexpected, dramatic conclusion, giving way to a reflection too bittersweetly true to reveal. Claudio proceeds toward it in this fashion" - Tim Rutten, The Los Angeles Times

  • "If only there were more of that gorgeous prose here, and less gumshoe intrigue and fewer car accidents (there are five). There have been novels that have successfully balanced a characterís rich interior life and interactions with the world of crime (...) but itís not an easy balance to strike. One problem that plagues The Natural Disorder of Things is that the reader suspects Canobbio himself doesnít fully care about the twists and turns of his story." - Vendela Vida, The New York Times Book Review

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 Natural Disorder of Things is narrated by Claudio Fratta, an overweight, single, successful garden designer. He sort of fell into the profession, forced by circumstances to help out his father at his job and then finding it was his calling, and he's done very well and is much in demand.
       Claudio's father is dead, broken by the collapse of his business, which is blamed on his dealings with some loan sharks. Claudio's older brother is the family intellectual, the brooding and politically engaged Carlo whose affair has shattered his marriage; he comes over to Claudio's with his two young sons most weekends. Their other brother, Fabio, was a junky and died years earlier.
       Claudio's mother told him a name -- of one of the men that ruined his father -- and Claudio became obsessed by it. Near the beginning of the novel Claudio witnesses the death of the man. One of the others there that night is Elisabetta Renal, and after that she plays a significant role in his life. After that night the connexion takes a few months to reestablish, but eventually she wants to hire him to design a garden for the Villa Renal.
       Claudio does accept the job, though he finds himself drawn into something quite unexpected there. The dominating figure there is the dead Alfredo Renal -- presumably Elisabetta's brother --, the patron saint of sorts for a foundation. Also in residence there is the wheelchair-bound Rossi, apparently Elisabetta's husband. And further in the background is the more sinister Mosca, who also works with the foundation.
       Claudio isn't quite sure what he's getting drawn into, but he lets himself slide along. Rossi wants him to keep an eye on Elisabetta, giving Claudio an excuse to follow her around -- but since he's fallen for her (and since he has this peculiar obsessive streak of following people around) he probably would have done so anyway. They have an affair, the garden gets built, and even Claudio realises that there are a lot of things here that aren't quite right.
       Part of the success of the book is the general disorder of things: there are clouds and malevolence all over (including Claudio's encounter with a dog early on). The Renal Foundation possibly isn't as fine a charity as one might think, and skeletons of some sort seem to hang in all sorts of closets. There's some downright evil, but for the most part it's moral ambiguity that dominates: Italian society as Canobbio sees it, going back to World War II (and choosing between the fascists and the partisans) and continuing politically to this day. And even those who are politically honourable -- like Carlo -- have their moral weaknesses (Carlo's affair ...).
       Family structure, too, -- arguably the foundation of Italian life -- has been completely torn apart. From the Renal/Rossi relationships (Elisabetta as wife and sister -- but whose ?) to Claudio taking the place of his father on the job to Carlo screwing up his marriage (not to mention what actually happened to Fabio) traditional standards and roles have been all mixed up.
       The killings in the book are not quite as effective as one might expect. In some respects, this is an Italian noir -- there are bad guys who deserve getting killed, and decent (more or less) people who get caught in webs of deception -- but Canobbio heaps so much more onto it (and he like his greys so much) that the noir element gets washed out. And the killings (of men and dogs) are quite bizarre, especially the last one. Not entirely unbelievable, but at odds with the otherwise very plausible rendering of the lives of all these characters.
       Claudio's somewhat unfocussed narrative (and life-) approach also make the novel less than entirely satisfying. Still, there are enough scenes of these various lives to hold the readers interest (more so than the underlying 'mystery' does, at any rate), and one almost wishes Canobbio hadn't tried to pack quite so much into the book. The fragmented Fratta family already makes for a solid foundation, but the way he adds layers to it don't help things along.
       The Natural Disorder of Things has some appeal, but isn't entirely gripping.

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The Natural Disorder of Things: Reviews: Other books by Andrea Canobbio under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Andrea Canobbio was born in 1962. He is an editor an Einaudi.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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