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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sacha Naspini

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To purchase Nives

Title: Nives
Author: Sacha Naspini
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 129 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Nives - US
Nives - UK
Nives - Canada
Nives - Italia
  • Italian title: Nives
  • Translated by Clarissa Botsford

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Our Assessment:

B : neatly snowballing tale as a dormant but not forgotten past is dredged up

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
La Stampa . 5/9/2020 Sergio Pent

  From the Reviews:
  • "Naspini è molto bravo a delineare personaggi e situazioni, maneggia con accortezza e disinvoltura la materia narrativa, «sceneggia» caratteri e ambienti con rapide pennellate, lasciando al lettore il compito -- ma anche il piacere -- di comporre il puzzle della storia e dei profili umani in tutta libertà. (...) Una telefonata che vale una intera esistenza collettiva, è questo il sunto di un racconto veloce e naturale, in cui le scoperte vengono a galla con la spontaneità di una confessione cercata inconsciamente da tutti i protagonisti" - Sergio Pent, La Stampa

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:

       Nives begins with the eponymous protagonist's life being upended, her husband Anteo going out to feed the hogs and keeling over dead from a stroke. The scene also sets some of the tone of the novel: after Anteo drops dead, Cyclamen, the hungry hog that was expecting its daily slop, quickly goes about making do with what is at hand instead, beginning to chew on the dead man's face instead; Nives chases him away quickly enough but doesn't leave it at that: she immediately gets the hunting rifle and plugs the pig between the eyes. As then also suggested by how she handles everything else -- "Nives didn't shed a tear, not even at the funeral" -- Nives is not the most sentimental of souls.
       At sixty-six, after more than four decades of marriage, she finds that Anteo's absence doesn't touch her nearly as much as one might expect it should. She does feel abandoned, and sleeps poorly without the familiar form nearby, but soon finds a remedy, taking one of her chickens, Giacomina, from the chicken coop and installing it in the house instead. It's all she needs: "With Giacomina by her side, her sleep was as undisturbed as a saint's".
       If, on one level, much more at ease now, her situation does make Nives think:

What made that weird was the following: with Giacomina by her side, there was nothing about her husband that she missed. She was assailed by a sense of despondency that she didn't know what to do with, telling herself, "I gave my life to a man I've been able to replace with a chicken." It made her feel dirty. But also wasted.
       All this is basically preamble, situating Nives at this point in her life. The crisis point comes not with Anteo's death but in her newly-established routine when, watching TV, Giacomina freezes up, as if paralyzed or in a coma. Nives shakes the hen and tries making loud noises, but there's nothing doing: the hen remains like a statue. In her desperation, Nives calls the home of the local veterinarian, Loriano Bottai, for advice.
       Nives lives in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. She has to look up Bottai's number, but there's clearly familiarity between her and Bottai and his wife, Donatella. So also Nives knows that Bottai has a fondness for drink, and stumbles off to bed early, as he also has on this evening -- but she's desperate to speak with him and insists Donatella rouse him.
       The veterinarian tries to understand what Nives is going on about, but can't give much better advice than what Nives herself has already tried. But their telephone conversation soon moves from this peculiar manifestation -- an almost comic end-effect -- to the real issue(s), the underlying cause(s). Nives turns out to be a can-of-worms-novel, as Nives -- and Bottai -- reflect on their lives.
       Nives gets things off to a start with the obvious question:
     I'm asking you as a doctor: is it normal to replace a husband with a chicken, and not to miss anything about the husband, not even for half a minute ?
       The answer to that would seem to be entirely obvious; the real question is, of course, why Nives has reacted to the death of her husband in this way.
       It turns out that there's a lot in their past that explains who they've become. In her conversation with the veterinarian Nives begins revisiting their youth -- revealing some things about, for example, the teenage Donatella that Bottai was unaware of. There are ghosts from the past too, larger than life figures and influences: local Adonis and Lothario Renato Pagliuchi -- who now lives upstairs from the Bottais --, and, for example, Rosaltea -- Rosa --, desperately in love with Renato, back in the day, who fell from the town belfry into the piazza, dressed only in her nightgown, an apparent suicide.
       Rosa and her death made a great impact, and Bottai understands (some of) what Nives is getting at:
     "What am I trying to say ?"
     "That Rosa is that thing we all have, which sometimes keeps us awake at night."
       Indeed, Rosa cast a large, dark shadow, first alive and then dead -- but that's just the tip of the iceberg that Nives dredges up. As becomes clear, the townspeople -- and Nives and Bottai -- have long lived in denial, choosing to ignore things that happened long ago. Bottai admits as much and defends the attitude:
The past is full of ghosts. For all of us. That's how it is, and that's how it will always be. Talking tonight, thirty years later, will serve no purpose.
       Nives, however, won't stand for that: it's time to get it all out in the (semi-)open -- and they do.
       Some nine-tenths of the novel is taken up by this one long, late-night (by the end) telephone conversation. While the fate of Giacomina has to wait, a lifetime's worth of hurts, miscues, and regrets are unspooled. Naspini manages this quite well, the escalation, and many of its details, truly surprising. The weight of the past has long proved crushing -- not least because, unmentioned, it has remained dormant but not forgotten; it has defined so many lives, without being properly addressed.
       It's a a lot to come rushing out now -- but it certainly makes for a solid, (melo-)dramatic story. Naspini packs quite a story in, and while there's also some awkwardness to the way it is presented -- essentially all in a telephone conversation -- it's quite neatly done. It is, in particular, the escalation of the story -- the revelations bore very far and deep into these lives, upending quite a bit -- that impresses.
       A solid read -- though one almost wishes that Giacomina had an even more prominent role in the whole story .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 May 2021

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Nives: Reviews: Sacha Naspini: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Sacha Naspini was born in 1976.

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© 2021 the complete review

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