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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Quiet Chaos

Sandro Veronesi

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To purchase Quiet Chaos

Title: Quiet Chaos
Author: Sandro Veronesi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 417 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Quiet Chaos - US
Quiet Chaos - UK
Quiet Chaos - Canada
Quiet Chaos - India
Chaos calme - France
Stilles Chaos - Deutschland
Caos calmo - Italia
  • Italian title: Caos calmo
  • Translated by Michael F. Moore
  • Quiet Chaos was made into a film in 2008, directed by Antonello Grimaldi and starring Nanni Moretti

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Our Assessment:

B : fine premises, but diluted in too many digressions and over too great a length

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 10/1/2011 .
Wall St. Journal . 14/5/2011 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "Veronesi finds some success in this courageous and difficult project, creating an unreliable narrator who feels an unusual manifestation of grief, though the subplots are so crudely satirical that it's unclear where the winking satire ends and the realist psychological drama begins." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The overpowering sense of fragility that touches Pietro and Claudia is superbly conveyed by translator Michael F. Moore." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

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:

       Quiet Chaos begins with an impressive one-two punch. It opens with the narrator, Pietro Paladini, and his brother, Carlo, on the beach after getting in some surfing, and then plunging back into the ocean to save two drowning women. Veronesi describes the scene at considerable length -- in their panic the women struggle, making saving them difficult; Pietro finds himself sexually aroused by the effort -- and it helps draw the reader into the narrative. As it turns out, however, Veronesi likes to go at similar length regardless of what he is describing, and that isn't quite as effective when the scenes aren't quite as life-and-death exciting .....
       Pietro and Carlo's heroism isn't even properly recognized in the excitement, and they basically just walk away from the scene, and Pietro heads home, to Lara, the woman he's been with for over a decade (and is now set to finally marry) and their ten-year-old daughter, Claudia. Here Veronesi follows up the beach scene with his knockout punch, as Pietro doesn't return to the expected domestic calm and bliss: it turns out that while Pietro was saving the woman, Lara keeled over, dead.
       Already a few weeks later Claudia is set to start the new school year, and Pietro brings her to school and it's here the story proper starts, beginning with Pietro properly introducing himself -- "My name is Pietro Paladini. I'm forty-three years old and I'm a widower.". It's here, in the school parking lot, that Pietro also impulsively makes a decision -- to spend the entire day there waiting for his daughter. He means to reassure her, perhaps, and provide a certain stability -- that she can look out the classroom window, and see that at least one parent hasn't abandoned her.
       Pietro does spend the entire day there, and then the next, and then it just becomes a routine. An executive at a cable TV station, he can get most of his work done on site, with someone bringing him any important papers he needs to sign and telephone and car fax allowing him to stay in touch and get his work done. This isn't entirely convincing, but the fact that Pietro's company is in great turmoil because of a rumored merger makes it adequately plausible.
       Soon enough Pietro finds:

Quite simply, I have the impression that I'm better off here than I would be anywhere else.
       There's a (major) element of evasive denial here, of course -- a refusal to face up to and continue with life. But, as it turns out, it's also a pretty wily move in keeping him at a distance from the upheaval at corporate.
       Pietro lounges about much of the day, but he also holds court. People visit him and unburden themselves, and so there are digressive chapters introducing a variety of characters who are allowed to tell their own stories, and there's also a lot of back-and-forth dialogue. There's Marta, his would-have-been sister-in-law, and Carlo, the Peter Pan-obsessed and incredibly successful fashion world entrepreneur (whose company is called Barrie), as well as various people from work. Pietro also gets to know some of the people in the vicinity of the school; eventually, too, the woman he rescued from the ocean resurfaces in his life as well. And there are telephone conversations with those farther away -- such as his father.
       Pietro only spends the school-hours in front of the school, so the action isn't entirely restricted to that locale, and there are a variety of episodes elsewhere, from Claudia's gymnastics class to a return to the seaside. But the haven in front of the school remains the locus.
       There is little differentiation between the significant and the trivial in much of the account. Pietro goes on at length -- as do some of those who come to him to unburden themselves -- and from riffs about whether there are secret messages in the Radiohead-CD that Lara didn't leave for him to a mysterious and repeatedly bashed-into vehicle in the parking lot to the shifting merger strategies at work Quiet Chaos remains full of ... quiet chaos, all bubbling at a similar level, the significant and insignificant almost indistinguishable. It's part of Pietro's coping mechanism: to allow almost everything to come to him as he remains fairly passive.
       But Veronesi tries to do a great deal here, and it's hard not to feel that he overextends himself. Pietro turns out also to be a rather unreliable narrator; more tightly focused on him, his grief (and its peculiar manifestations), and how he handles his personal and professional life the novel likely would have been more gripping; as is, the many other stories that flow through the narrative (often, again, at great length) confuse and distract. Several characters also remain disappointingly underdeveloped: one gets surprisingly little sense of who Lara was, and for all of Pietro's intense love of his daughter he doesn't present her particularly well.
       There are many storylines (and stories) in Quiet Chaos that are intriguing and well-presented. The fundamental ideas -- of Pietro (and his daughter) dealing with Lara's death, and the complex merger strategizing going on at his business -- are certainly interesting. But too much of the novel simply treads water, the effort to present the entirety of the 'quiet chaos' of life leading to too much that ultimately feels like empty padding.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 May 2011

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Quiet Chaos:
  • Ecco publicity page
Reviews: Quiet Chaos - the film: Other books by Sandro Veronesi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Sandro Veronesi was born in 1959.

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© 2011-2022 the complete review

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