Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico (Antonio Tabucchi)

--The blurb--
"The reader meets a flying creature of ambiguous species in a priest's vegetable garden, and a revolutionary who is told her incredible future by Mademoiselle Lenormand, a fortune teller from the shadow world." 

--The review--
With the popularity of artists such as Laura Pausini, Eiffel 65 and Andrea Bocelli, and the success of Italian films such as Scialla!, it seems only naturally that the English-speaking public should also be interested in contemporary literature by Italian authors (Dario Fo and Umberto Eco are just two Italian writers who are still alive and still popular today, and whose works are already considered classics). So how does Antonio Tabucchi, who died in 2012, measure up to these greats?

Tabucchi was a prolific writer and academic who published 31 works between 1975 and 2011, including the greatly-lauded Indian Nocturne. Expectations are therefore great. Specifically, what of his 1987 collection of short stories, The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico? 

There are certainly elements that are worthy of applause. Tabucchi was clearly wildly imaginative and a talented creator of beautiful description. The story entitled Messages From The Shadows is perhaps the best example of this, proving mysterious, elegant and poetic. The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico, which is the first story in the collection, is eminently readable and should appeal broadly.

However, there were several problems, which can be attributed respectively to the writer, the translator, and those responsible for formatting this book for Kindle.

Several aspects of the story were unsatisfying, thanks to various instances of unsophisticated syntax, abrupt endings, undeveloped plotlines, telling rather than showing, pretention, narcissism, poor punctuation, awkward phrasing, and a general lack of clarity, precision and direction. However, due to reading The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico in translation, it is not necessarily possible to tell whether this is the fault of Tabucchi himself, or his translator (in this case, Tim Parks, who has been nominated for the Booker Prize twice for his own works of fiction). For this reason, I would not completely discount reading other works by Tabucchi if translated by others.

Formatting problems for the Kindle edition of the text were equally bothersome: paragraphing was destroyed by random gaps and lines were interspersed with odd sequences of unrelated text and symbols. Equally, instinct tells the reader that pictures are supposed to accompany and thus enhance the text; none of these images were, however, visible in the text's Kindle edition. This is a great shame, as given that the collection's title is so heavily rooted in art, it is almost certain that the inclusion of images would greatly supplement the stories.

So while perhaps Tabucchi does not reach the dizzying heights of Fo and Eco in the annals of 20th-century literature with The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico, this one work alone is not reason enough to discard his oeuvre completely. Perhaps instead seek out Pereira Maintains, which won Tabucchi the Viareggio Prize in 1994 - a prize also accorded to another Italian great, Primo Levi.


Jessi said...

Unpopular comment time: I don't like Tim Parks. I'm not sure if anyone else has translated Tabucchi, but don't give up!118

Bianca said...

Thanks Jessi - I won't! I didn't know Tim Parks' work before, but it sounds like it gets a thumbs down all round. All the more reason to try to read foreign works in their original language I suppose :p Thanks for stopping by :)