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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Private Venus

Giorgio Scerbanenco

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To purchase A Private Venus

Title: A Private Venus
Author: Giorgio Scerbanenco
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 285 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: A Private Venus - US
A Private Venus - UK
A Private Venus - Canada
A Private Venus - India
Vénus privée - France
Das Mädchen aus Mailand - Deutschland
Venere privata - Italia
Venus privada - España
  • Italian title: Venere privata
  • The first novel in the Duca Lamberti quartet
  • Translated by Howard Curtis
  • With an Introduction by Giuliana Pieri
  • With an autobiographical essay, I, Vladimir Scerbanenko
  • A Private Venus is the first Duca Lamberti novel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : slightly dated, but still superior noir

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 20/8/2012 .
Wall Street Journal . 21/3/2014 Tom Nolan

  From the Reviews:
  • "This edition also includes a brief autobiographical memoir from a noir writer richly deserving rediscovery." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       A Private Venus -- a landmark Italian noir -- is the first of four Duca Lamberti novels that Scerbanenco wrote; typically, for US/UK publishing practices, it is the second translated into English, as the second in the series was published in English first (as Duca and the Milan Murders) -- forty years ago .....
       A Private Venus, set in 1960s Milan, opens with Duca Lamberti just a few days out of prison, where he -- a doctor -- had served a three-year term for a mercy killing. Stricken from the register (i.e. no longer allowed to practice medicine), his father dead, and his sister raising a baby she had with some cad who has abandoned her, Duca has few ties and few options. His father had been a policeman, and so at least Duca has some friends on the force, notably Superintendent Luigi Carrua, who sets him up with a possible job.
       Pietro Auseri is "one of the top five engineers in the field of plastics", in which he has made his fortune. A widower in his fifties, he has a son, Davide, who is twenty-two and who, for the past year, has done little but drink. Having tried everything else, Auseri wants, as a last resort, to hire Duca to look after his son and cure him of his alcoholism. As Duca immediately realizes, if Davide suddenly turned to drink a year ago there was must have been some very good (or bad) reason for him to do so -- and that resolving whatever happened back then is the key to saving Davide. But Duca also realizes he might be poking a hornets' nest if he starts digging into the young man's past.
       Davide is a gentle giant, not quite slow but without much ambition or drive and overall quite submissive, cowed by a domineering father. Duca takes on the case -- but warns Carrua: "I don't want to have anything to do with people or things that are outside the law", and that if he uncovers something criminal somewhere in Davide's past he's going to drop the whole thing and walk away. Of course, he comes across something dark and ugly and involving criminal activity, and of course he can't walk away. Duca is a deeply moral man, and he's just a bit too sensitive for his own good (as he admits to his sister); he can't walk away from this, because he'd be letting Davide down. So he does what's right -- even as he remembers what road that led him down last time, when: "He had got everything wrong."
       Needless to say, Davide was driven to drink by something terrible that happened, which overwhelms him with guilt; they figure out soon enough more or less what actually happened -- but then also decide to go after the truly bad guys. Duca convinces the police to let him help with the investigation, and, in turn, enlists the dutiful Davide's help. He also finds a woman with ties to one of the victims, Livia Ussaro, and lets her get involved as well. In a rather daring twist, Duca is not the one in the middle of the events that lead to the resolution of the case: he makes the tough choices, and another suffers in his stead -- as if he didn't have enough guilt to carry around with him .....
       The criminality in A Private Venus is dark and ugly, but offers an interesting perspective on women's desperation and opportunities in those times. Duca's sister barely gets by, but at least she doesn't engage in the casual prostitution some of the other characters get sucked into. And the problem all women face is, as Livia explains to Duca, that:

a woman is a piece of merchandise that's too much in demand, she represents a financial and social element that's too large for a whole structure of interests not to be created around her.
       And, of course, some of those structures can get very nasty -- as, indeed, they do here, with 'casual' prostitution easily turning into something much more dangerous.
       Duca is a classic noir hero, and a very well-drawn character. Dealing with the very passive Davide of course highlights how in charge and control he is, but Scerbanenco balances Duca's personal demons and soft spots with his desire for justice -- and his wish to live simply and peacefully, but willingness to do whatever it takes to do what's 'right' (even if that involves euthanasia ...) -- very well.
       A Private Venus also offers an interesting glimpse into Italian life in the 1960s, particularly in showing women treading a still very uncomfortable line between sexual freedom and living in a sexist society in which they are treated largely as objects and pawns. Several of the female characters, in particular, are impressively well-drawn strong and independent-minded women (and suffer for it ...).
       The Duca Lamberti novels are world-class noir, and their publication in English is is long, long overdue; even now, almost half a century after it was written, A Private Venus stands up very well.

       Note that this volume also includes an Introduction by Giuliana Pieri, which is of some interest, given how almost entirely unknown Scerbanenco is in the English-speaking world -- despite, as she notes, the fact that he was apparently: "more prolific than Simenon". Scerbanenco's autobiographical essay, I, Vladimir Scerbanenko, is also helpfully included, providing additional background.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 August 2012

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A Private Venus: Reviews: Other books by Giorgio Scerbanenco under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Prolific Italian author Giorgio Scerbanenco lived 1911 to 1969.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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