Reviewed by Hollay Ghadery
I have a reoccurring nightmare that's something like Guglielmo D'Izzia's first novel, The Transaction. I'm trapped in a large, spavined house with many dark corridors, hidden passages, dusty corners, and a smattering of mysteriously locked rooms and shady characters, and--try as I may--I can't get out. In essence, it's a Hotel California situation, and D'Izzia's compelling narrative captures the stifling fear and intrigue of this purgatory brilliantly.
The entire novel is a sweeping and stunning exercise in being uncomfortable. From the first paragraph of the first page when the protagonist, De Angelis, wakes on a train to the "pungent, almost nauseating smell" of a now deboarded passenger's lunch to the disorientating and persistent cock-ups that follow, to the oppressive climate and questionable personalities that plague him from the moment he opens his eyes, both the reader and De Angelis are immersed in a sticky sense of physical and moral filth for the next 226 pages.
Some of that filth is generated by De Angelis himself, who, as the story unfolds, reveals himself to be less than the entirely virtuous hero that a more dualistically principled tale would require.
Being able to maintain this level of intensity for an entire novel without becoming exhausting (or just plain boring) is no easy feat, but D'Izzia manages it through a masterful grasp of dark comedy--and like all good comedy, timing is everything. Woven into a sinister world of murder, child prostitution and other horrifically taboo activities are delightful threads of black humour--and it's this humour that provides room to breathe and digest the darkness of what is happening throughout the novel.
D'Izzia's black comedy is at his best when he's fleshing out characters and character relations. The equally disquieting and overwhelmingly congenial conversations between De Angelis and his landlady's cousin, Turiddu, are superb examples of this humour.
When De Angelis first meets his cousin Turiddu, the latter is relentless in his insistence that De Angelis come for lunch, despite De Angelis repeatedly trying to decline. Once in Truiddu's home, the scene is masterfully handled: There's the polite surface chat, but there's also a disturbing undercurrent. Though De Angelis doesn't want to be there, his obsequious nature makes him incapable of leaving.
Forced into civil chit-chat with the cousin, De Angelis asks Turiddu how he manages to make a living to support himself and his ailing mother, seeing as Turridu plays the lottery, but doesn't appear to work. Turiddu replies that he uses subsidies. When De Angelis inquires further, asking what he plans to do after she dies, Turiddu replies, "I won't tell anyone" with a sinister grin plastered across his face. Then, the doorbell rings and Turiddu is off with "bouncy steps" to see who's there.
The lightness of those steps paired with the darkness of the conversation shows D'Izzia's capacity for black humour at its finest.
Under the brutal brightness of D’Izzia’s Sicilian sun, we’re forced to confront the most uncomfortable and grotesque taboos. What’s more, we, like De Angelis, are forced to confront our complicity in their continued existence.
The Transaction is published by Guernica Editions.