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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Nicola Lagioia

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To purchase Ferocity

Title: Ferocity
Author: Nicola Lagioia
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 447 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Ferocity - US
Ferocity - UK
Ferocity - Canada
La féroce - France
Eiskalter Süden - Deutschland
La ferocia - Italia
  • Italian title: La ferocia
  • Awarded the Premio Strega, 2015
  • Translated by Antony Shugaar

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Our Assessment:

B+ : elaborately twisted, gripping dark family tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 6/10/2017 Zoë Apostolides
FAZ . 31/10/2016 Niklas Bender
The NY Times Book Rev. D 12/11/2017 Namara Smith
The Observer . 15/8/2017 Lettie Kennedy
Die Zeit . 12/1/2017 Tobias Gohlis

  From the Reviews:
  • "Nicola Lagioia’s fourth novel and English-language debut -- elegantly translated by Antony Shugaar -- takes many characters, central and ancillary, as its protagonist, like a Greek chorus narrating from varied and often contradictory texts. (...) Ferocity resists classification as a whodunnit, focusing instead on the corruption coursing through a society desperate to seem more moneyed than it is" - Zoë Apostolides, Financial Times

  • "Eiskalter Süden will mentale Mechanismen und Zustände in Bilder fassen, selbst wenn sie halb- oder unbewusst sind. Lagioias Stil ist daher innerlich und dicht, mitunter dunkel, passagenweise verstiegen. (...) Wer hat’s getan? Das ist nicht entscheidend. So rätselhaft die Dinge sind, die sich in Bari zutragen, in letzter Konsequenz scheint nicht einmal das Motiv ausschlaggebend." - Niklas Bender, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Though Ferocity adopts the trappings of a stylish thriller, it has the ambitions of a social novel. Here is where Clara’s real usefulness as a device emerges. (...) But having assembled this material, Lagioia doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. In place of insight, his characters dispense banalities about globalization ("China. Brazil. Everything happens so fast") and the facts of industrial pollution. The book’s main target is the corruption of Italy’s ruling class by decades of neoliberal economic policies. This would be a good subject for a novel; but rather than pursue it, Ferocity retreats into abstraction." - Namara Smith, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Ferocity is a portrait of a family tragedy, but also at its heart explores two competing visions of humanity: one ferocious and deterministic, the other transcendent and free-willed." - Lettie Kennedy, The Observer

  • "Lagioia schreibt in der Tradition Leonardo Sciascias, der als Erster eine Sprache für das Unausgesprochene fand, das die Geschäfts- und Verhaltensregeln zwischen Unterwelt und Oberwelt bestimmt. Lagioia erweitert diese Sprache des Schweigens um die Dimension der psychischen Mechanismen. Eiskalter Süden ist eine Naturkunde des Verbrechens, komplex, barock und unergründlich" - Tobias Gohlis, Die Zeit

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:

       Ferocity opens with a gruesome tragedy, the death of thirty-six year-old Clara Salvemini, who had stumbled naked, bloodied, and battered onto a road. Yet the death is ruled a suicide, and the silence of Orazio Bazile, the driver who crashed his truck trying to avoid her -- and lost a leg in the process -- is bought, with first-rate care and a fancy apartment, the likes of which he would have never been able to afford for himself. The mystery surrounding Clara's death lingers through the book, but the point of the story is only partially in solving it, to whatever extent that's possible; indeed, Ferocity -- and the death at its heart -- is less crime novel than Greek tragedy, Clara's death, and everything that comes with it, not so much a crime but fated inevitability.
       The pater familias is Vittorio, seventy-five when his older daughter dies. He is a successful real-estate developer and speculator in the southern Italian Bari region. His wife Annamaria recognized his incredible drive when she first met him, realizing it would lead him to spectacular success. But Vittorio's success is also built on riding roughshod across everything in his way -- from environmental considerations (much less actual regulations) to the easily paid-off authorities. Much of the land he's developed is literally poisoned; so, of course, is his whole life (and, as it turns out, now even his body, as his oncologist son recognizes).
       Clara's husband, the hapless Alberto, calls them: "A family of crazy people", but they are also a very powerful family, long used to seeing all their whims indulged. And Vittorio is the completely dominant figure, is used to getting -- or forcing -- his way, though he also believes he is acting in the best interest of his children, whom he does love. In many ways -- and to a more extreme degree -- the Salveminis are typical:

In Italy the family is sacred. Usually people prefer to let themselves be destroyed by theirs.
       The eldest son, Ruggero, turned, overnight, into a driven student, burning brightly through school and becoming a successful doctor -- but even he was pulled back into the fold, enticed by a position close to the family home that promised comfort but cut short any possibility of further successes on the international stage. Beyond that, Ruggero was quickly compromised by his father, doing a favor for him that, he realized, snared him in the awful Salvemini net that he had briefly escaped:
     Once he'd done something like that, over the years that followed anything became possible.
       There's also a younger sister, Gioia, still too young to have started making her own way in the world, but it is brother Michele that is the odd man out in this family, already difficult in his youth and never quite fitting in with the family -- and with a strong anti-authoritarian streak -- and now living in Rome.
       Ferocity is presented in three parts (with a brief Epilogue-chapter), a three-act family drama that focuses at first on the present, and Vittorio's scheming, including covering up his daughter's death -- better a suicide than the truth. Still, try as he might, Clara and her story aren't entirely dead and buried. There is, for example, that Twitter account, @ClaraSalvemini, that pops up after her death, with the first tweet reading: "I didn't kill myself."
       There are glimpses of Michele in the first part of the novel, but he only really emerges in the middle section -- when he also returns to the family household, after having skipped Clara's funeral. His odd (un)fit in the family is explained, as is his closeness to Clara when they were younger -- until they were torn apart. With him resisting authority at all turns, Vittorio and, especially, resentful Annamaria also don't act in his best interests -- culminating in not having helped him avoid military service, as Clara begged them to, knowing how Michele would react to barrack-life.
       Michele is eventually, in part, broken -- institutionalized, given electroshock therapy -- but it turns out Clara is the one who really snaps. Even the marriage she leaps into can't save her, and she spirals down a self-destructive path that ultimately consumes her -- and, indirectly, pulls the family down with her.
       Lagioia has Michele sniff around and stir things up, in trying to discover the truth abut Clara, and Ferocity goes through the motions of being a sort of investigative story, with Michele talking to the right people -- and even truck driver Orazio Bazile resurfacing -- but Lagioia only uses it to dredge up all the barely hidden darkness of the swamp that is the Salvemini family and business. Ferocity swirls in this morass, very much a family-novel, as well as one of contemporary (southern) Italy, a deep, pervasive rot eating away at both.
       The presentation and especially the writing is ambitious; Ferocity is meant to be not only a big novel, but a grand one. There's a great deal of over-reach here, from the beginning, as when:
     He understood, above all, that he'd swerved not to avoid her but to save himself, because everything about her was a magnet and an absence of will, the hypnotic call that, once followed, makes everything identical and perfect, so that we cease to exist.
       Shifting back and forth between present and past, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph, Lagioia effectively shows the burdensome weight of the past and its deeply lingering and lasting influence in everyday life. A few times he gets almost too cute -- Michele's encounter with the medical examiner who had signed off on Clara's death is broached several times, each time with the ME having a sense of déjà vu ..... The characters, too, and some of their actions can seem a bit extreme -- Michele almost being killed by a bulldozer at school (though his reactions are cleverly used), or Clara's decadent free-fall -- but the story is more compelling than not, and even where it stutters remains interesting.
       Ferocity is a sometimes frustrating, sometimes annoying read, but the powerful story and character- and society-portraits sustain it. Lagioia's ambitions -- including the stylistic ones - get the better of him at times, but on the whole Ferocity impresses, and is a gripping read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 October 2017

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Ferocity: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Nicola Lagioia was born in 1973.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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