Sunday Salon: Scent of the Night

Sunday_salonI’ve taken all week to read a short book, "The Scent of the Night" by Andrea Camilleri (superbly translated by Stephen Sartarelli), finally finished it this morning. As ever with this series, set in Vigata, Sicily, the theme is that of rage against "progress", as the island becomes covered by the concrete of half-finished road schemes or construction projects. In "The Scent of the Night" the protagonist, Inspector Salvo Montalbano, becomes violent in his fury about the irrevocable change being forced upon his long-established way of life. He has two places where he goes to think: a rock on the jetty by the sea and an old olive tree. He finds himself driving late one night, drunk, and thinks he is at the crossroads where the olive tree grows. But he can’t see it, and so thinks he must be mistaken as he comes across a band of asphalt. He goes to investigate, but can recognise nothing in the landscape that is familiar to him. Then, in a patch of moonlight, he sees a new house, finished but not inhabited. Montalbano stumbles to the back of the house, and cries out. "The great Saracen olive tree lay before him, moribund, having been felled and uprooted. It was dying. They had cut the branches from the trunk with an electric saw……..He reached out and placed his hand over the space of a particularly wide gash. Under his palm he could still feel a slight dampness from the sap; it was oozing out little by little, like the blood of a man slowly bleeding to death". The rage felt and vengeance wreaked by Montalbano is fierce, and it is this violent mourning for a lost way of life which both haunts and drives all the books in the series.

Right at the end of "The Scent of the Night", Montalbano goes for a walk along the jetty for a cigarette at his customary rock. "He just wanted to sit there and listen to the sea swashing between the rocks. But thoughts come even when you do all in your power to keep them away. And the thought came into his mind concerned the Saracen olive tree that had been cut down. Now he had only the rock for a refuge. All at once, though he was out in the open air, he felt strangely as though he was suffocating, as though the space allocated for his existence had suddenly shrunk. By a lot."

4 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Scent of the Night

  1. I’ve only tried one Camilleri and for some reason couldn’t get on with it, but so many people whose opinions I respect think highly of him (and the pieces you’ve quoted here back that up) that I have to have another go. Could you recommend a good one to start with?

  2. Interesting. I’ve been kind of collecting good continental crime writers these days (with a focus on the Scandinavians). I haven’t read anything by Camilleri, but have now added it to my list. I echo Ann’s question about recommending a good one to try first?

  3. The best one to start with is the first, The Shape of Water. At Crime Scraps (see “great crime fiction blogs” in my blogroll) there are many articles about this series and other Italian crime fiction books, which provide an excellent guide. Euro Crime has a list of the books in order, and several reviews (some of them mine!)

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