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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Domenico Starnone

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To purchase Trust

Title: Trust
Author: Domenico Starnone
Genre: Novel
Written: 2019 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 171 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Trust - US
Trust - UK
Trust - Canada
Im Vertrauen - Deutschland
Confidenza - Italia
  • Italian title: Confidenza
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid novel of a variety of relationships

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 5/11/2021 Baya Simons
The LA Times . 8/11/2021 Steven G. Kellman
TLS . 26/11/2021 Sheena Joughin
The Washington Post . 10/11/2021 John Domini

  From the Reviews:
  • "Trust is structurally closest to Ties among Starnone’s translated novels: both pull away from the protagonist at the very end, fast-forwarding to the ends of their lives, and switching the perspective to a different character. This precise, cinematic control of time and perspective gives an impressive sense of grandness to such brief novels, and brings with it the aching poignancy of hindsight." - Baya Simons, Financial Times

  • "(A) short, sharp novel that cuts like a scalpel to the core of its characters (.....) These multiple narrators allow Starnone to build a Rashomon-like narrative structure in which the truth about Pietro hovers beyond all three accounts. Explicit references to mendacity warn the reader that no one is entirely reliable." - Steven G. Kellman, The Los Angeles Times

  • "And so the tension builds in these fraught pages of self-doubt, deception and fear of exposure. (...) What is most thrilling about Trust is its overwhelming sense of unease, exacerbated by the way first Pietro, then his daughter, and finally Theresa tell their contradictory stories" - Sheena Joughin, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Still, at his best, Starnone calls attention to that growl even in quiet moments. At the novel’s close, when Pietro’s grown old and appears to have found peace, others take over the storytelling -- an astonishing late feint in so brief a book, and one that again makes the skin crawl." - John Domini, The Washington Post

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:

       Trust is a three-act novel, with accounts by three different narrators. 'The First Story', narrated by Pietro, is by far the longest, and focuses on his life mostly between ages thirty and forty, when he is a teacher who finds some success with two books about the education system while his wife, Nadia, abandons her academic career, settling into motherhood. 'The Second Story' is set some forty years later, when Pietro is already long retired and his pushy daughter Emma sees to it that he is included on an honors-list of teachers and professors and that he is one of the three prize-winners on a newly-established national day dedicated to schools and schooling. Part of the prize ceremony then includes having a former student of the honored teacher say some words about him or her, and Emma suggests and arranges for it to be Teresa, one of Pietro's students from way back in the day who is now world famous. Finally, 'The Third Story' is Teresa's account of finding herself invited and then going to this event.
       Teresa -- also in her seventies by the time she gets around to having her say -- reflects from so many decades on that:

We do so many stupid things when we're young. No trace should remain of youth, not even memory.
       Alas, it's not that easy -- with Pietro, in particular, showing that he has difficulty in letting go -- of memories, and of Teresa.
       Teresa and Pietro have some history. She was his student in high school -- and then, after she graduated, became his lover. They had a passionate if often strained affair for three years. At a stressful point in the relationship they sought: "to find a way to nail down our codependence for good". Teresa's suggestion is that they confide in one another -- revealing something so awful about themselves that it: "would destroy your life if anyone came to know it", the idea being to show complete trust in each other.
       In a way, the plan succeeds all too well: Pietro, certainly, becomes -- and remains -- codependent, yoked to Teresa as if he can't help himself. But their relationship gains little from this act of mutual confession: only a few days later they both come to the realization that: "our affair had reached its end and we agreed, mutually, to break up".
       Pietro soon seduces the very different Nadia, and marries her, their union one with ups and downs but on the whole a reasonably happy and solid one. But Teresa continues to weigh, in one way or another, on Pietro's mind. She finds considerable academic success, and though she is far away, Pietro can't keep himself from reaching out and gets back in touch with her and begins a long correspondence with her -- he writing long letters, she generally offering more curt replies. He does not confide in his wife -- though clearly she suspects he still harbors some feelings for his ex.
       Pietro and Nadia's marriage has strains of its own when she, a star student in her own right, pursuing her studies of mathematics, finds herself academically increasingly frustrated; eventually she abandons her grand ambitions of a university career. Meanwhile, Pietro -- who was never particularly ambitious -- finds some success with his commentary on the school system, publishing two successful books and often speaking on the subject. His absences from the family take their toll on Nadia, who is quite resentful -- not least of Pietro's obliviousness to her sacrifices:
I'm talking about my time. The things you write, the places you go off to, your success, your looking so handsome and getting compliments and being celebrated, takes up a boatload of my time.
       Pietro repeatedly expresses a dissatisfaction with himself -- "As far back as I could remember I'd never liked myself, not as a child, not as an adult" -- but he has an easy-going, seductive manner that seems to readily win people over. There's a neediness to him too, a pushiness in demanding a connection -- as was also the case in his wooing of Nadia. He acknowledges: "I'd always aroused, in both sexes, a need for an indissoluble bond" -- yet it's almost never one that could hold (his wife being a rare exception). Teresa reminds him in a letter: "how my great friendships in the past had all met with a terrible end".
       To quite an extent, Trust is a study of that characteristic, describing Pietro's various relationships and in what form they held (and didn't), from adoring daughter Emma to the distant but deep connection to Teresa to the closeness he has to Nadia, even as she remains in so many ways someone he doesn't feel he fully knows. The trust the characters have in one another repeatedly comes to the fore, too. The shared secrets -- those terrible confessions -- Pietro and Teresa have is a foundation of sorts to their continuing codependence -- but also one that is largely buried and out of sight. Pietro seems to worry that it will rear its head at some point, but really it's just sunk, deep, deep down, a lot of grass quickly growing over it in the years that follow -- but also never quite enough for Pietro to forget it. Even if it ultimately is only a stand-in for his actual fears, it's something he clings to, making for a sense of insecurity that he can never entirely shed.
       It's an intriguing novel, with the flawed main character of Pietro going an interesting path. Tellingly, he recedes in the final two parts of the novel, barely a presence in Emma's account and completely out of view in Teresa's -- a kind of fade-out for the character. If the leap Starnone makes in the novel, from one part to the final two, -- forty years or so -- is an enormous one, the essentials are still covered: in a sense, everything after Pietro's own account is only a sort of coda.
       Emma makes for something of an abrupt change -- she's not much of a character yet in Pietro's account (unlike Teresa), and so to encounter her in full adulthood, with quite the life already behind her (including already having four children of her own) is a fairly abrupt re-situating of the novel. Still, her and then Teresa's account, both focused around this ceremony of recognition for Pietro, do bring the story to a clear close, a final say on Pietro, and also how he affected many of the people in his life.
       Starnone writes engagingly, and while his narrators can be difficult people, each willful in their own different way, they and the situations are intriguing enough that they aren't simply too annoying. If not entirely convincing as a character portrait of this specific kind of man, Trust is still a solid and quite appealing read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 November 2021

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Trust: Reviews: Other books by Domenico Starnone under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Domenico Starnone was born in 1943.

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© 2021-2022 the complete review

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