Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Late Mattia Pascal

LAST MONTH, CASTING ABOUT for a book to read while visiting in Portland I picked up an early novel by Luigi Pirandello, whose short stories entertained me fifty years ago or so, and whose plays have always fascinated me — though opportunities to see them actually produced have been far too rare.
(An important exception to that was The Imaginists's Tonight We Improvise, seen in January 2007 in a marvelous production.)
I hadn't read his novels, though, and was unprepared for this. Written in 1904, preceded by at least two earlier novels, The Late Mattia Pascal is clear, entertaining, thoughtful, nostalgic, as complex as you want to make it, accessible, and a quick read. I won't give you the plot; you can find it summarized here: it's enough to report that Mattia Pascal has the luck to be found dead even though he is in fact on what Algernon Moncrieff called a Bunbury. The novel concerns events as they play out during Pascal's second life, and climactically as he returns to the scene of his apparent suicide.
I suppose it's only because of the time and place their authorship shares, but The Late Mattia Pascal made me think of Italo Svevo's novels and plays, and of Alberto Moravia's novel Gli indifferenti; there's a similar meticulous lassitude, shared by Pirandello and his character I think. The precision of Pirandello's descriptions of Pascal's awareness is really quite wonderful; you might think of Henry James, but a very efficient James.
William Weaver's translation seems fluent and expressive, placing the novel in its time but holding the 21st-century reader's attention. I'm sorry I now have to return the book…
Luigi Pirandello: The Late Mattia Pascal. Translated and with an introduction by William Weaver. 1995: Marsilio Publishers, New York

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