Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

Back in January of 2010--time out while I wonder how FIVE YEARS have passed since then--I posted about this unsuspecting little read, Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard. I say unsuspecting because, although I seemed to find it slow moving and a little hard to read, this book sticks with me as one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read (and I actually don't remember the plot any more). It's one of those books that I suggest when people are looking for something new/different to read. Again, why I do that, since below I mention it being a book only lit majors could love, I have no idea. But it left a strong impression that's lasted half a decade.

"Set in the 1860s, The Leopard tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy..." That's how the back cover of the begins the summary. But I have to say, I'm not sure I think 'tells' is the appropriate verb, for multiple reasons. For one, the story isn't complete. The time from May 1860 through May 1910 is covered. That's a lot of time, for not a lot of pages, and as a result many things are not told. Secondly, the story is very slow moving. I think only English majors or major literature fans could make it through this novel. The actual plot movement felt minimal. Pages of description or tangents accompanied one major movement or revelation. [Some of this could be due to the translation of the novel from Italian to English (I think).]

But the prose is amazing--the word choice and descriptions are indulgent. For anyone who appreciates the setting, the scenery, the little bits and pieces of literature that aren't simply character development or plot motivation--this book is beguiling. I love the attention to detail, the almost dramatic but still carefree way things are described, the words and the imagery. It's a sensual read for word lovers.

"The half hour between Rosary and dinner was one of the least irritating moments of his day, and for hours beforehand he would savior its rather uncertain calm." 9

"The two telescopes and three lenses were lying there quietly, dazed by the sun, with black pads over the eyepieces, like well-trained animals who knew their meal was given them only at night." 37

"The comets would be appearing as usual, punctual to the minute, in sight of whoever was observing them." 40

"He drained his wine in a single gulp. The initials F.D. which before had stood out clearly on the golden color of the full glass were no longer visible." 43

"Tancredi, in an attempt to link gallantry and greed, tried to imagine himself tasting, in the aromatic forkfuls, the kisses of his neighbor Angelica, but he realized at once that the experiment was disgusting and suspended it, with a mental reservation about reviving this fantasy with the pudding." 80

"...and he rejoiced at this decision of Tancredi's which would assure him an ephemeral carnal satisfaction and a perennial financial peace." 98

"The thought occurred to Don Fabrizio that it was ignorance of this supreme consolation that made the young feel sorrows much more sharply than the old; the latter are nearer the safety exit." 229

Also, the author addresses and writes dying in a way that is meaningful, simple, and wonderful to read. I don't want to say too much in case you read it, but when I go, I hope it's like this.

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