“A new book from Starnone is an event to celebrate,” according to Kirkus Reviews, and Trick—the second Starnone novel to be translated into English by Jhumpa Lahiri—is “his best yet.”
Lahiri introduces Trick as an intriguing blend of Kafka and Henry James, a mixture of James’s trademark meticulous elegance and Kafka’s “obsession with the body: with physical discomfort, with weakness, with disease.”
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Trick by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, Europa Editions.
Reviewed by Victoria Livingstone, Assistant Editor
In Domenico Starnone’s Trick, beautifully translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, an aging artist named Daniele Mallarico returns to his childhood home in Naples to babysit his four-year-old grandson, Mario. When he is not engaging in battles of will with the child, Daniele struggles to complete a series of illustrations for a new edition of a Henry James story, “The Jolly Corner.” Like the narrator in James’s story, Daniele’s homecoming forces him to confront the ghosts of his past. For Daniele, the ghosts take the form of unfulfilled expectations, failed relationships, and strange apparitions.
Daniele uses art both to summon these ghosts and to keep them at bay. Art is therefore necessary to his survival. Yet, despite his insistence on continuing his career as an artist, he begins to question the value of his work and laments the inevitable loss of possibility that comes with aging. At the same time, he must bear witness to the emergence, described at times in violent terms, of a talented younger generation. Observing his grandchild, Daniele thinks, “His living matter itself contains all possibility: what’s manifested through the long chain of couplings and births that came before him, what’s undone and lost in death, what waits a thousand years to be drawn, painted, photographed, filmed, downloaded, broadcast, recounted, reconsidered.”
Trick takes on an impressive array of themes: art, aging, generational shifts, the nature of creative talent, and the powerful effects of chance. The novel’s innovative structure includes an appendix with notes and drawings by the fictional artist-protagonist and Lahiri’s introduction to the translation adds another layer of complexity. She explores the parallels between Starnone’s novel and James’s ghost story and builds on them by describing the ways in which process of translation leaves ghosts behind. Trick is not a ghost story, but its exploration of dark themes will surely haunt the reader.
Victoria Livingstone is an assistant editor at Asymptote. She holds a doctorate in Hispanic literature and teaches Spanish at Moravian College. She researches translation history and translates literature from Spanish and from Brazilian Portuguese. Her first book translation was Song from the Underworld (Achiote Press 2014), a book of contemporary Maya poetry by Guatemalan author Pablo Garcia. She also writes frequently on social issues and contributes to a number of publications as a freelance writer.
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