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Coasting towards retirement - Zen, Dibdin or both...?,
This review is from: Back to Bologna (Hardcover)
The latest Aurelio Zen novel takes Aurelio to Bologna - scene of infamous terrorist outrages in the "anni di piombi". The significant characters this time however are a TV chef, and a Professor Ugo who teaches Semiotics at Bologna University which appears to be a thinly veiled parody of Umberto Eco.
The narrative steps away from Zen for large chunks, and is perhaps at its best when it does - the picture of the Professor with his different rooms for different styles of writing is hilarious. (Incidentally - for really elegant writing about Italy and the world, Umberto Eco's columns in L'espresso - La Bustina di Minerva - are difficult to equal) When Zen is in the picture, Dibdin seems unsure what to do with him. The characterisation - like Zen himself - is grey and uncertain. An incompetent private eye, Tony Speranza is introduced, and the narrative drops quotes from Raymond Chandler's novel "The Big Sleep" and essay "the simple art of murder". The picture of Bologna is easy to recognise, in fact you would find it difficult not to see most of the sites referenced in 2 days there. This is a view of Bologna accessible to the tourist - compare this with the intensity of the feeling for Venice in "Dead Lagoon". An ending comes - not before time - which requires all the main characters to be in the same place at the right time and it is clumsy and inelegant.
This novel lacks the atmosphere of "Ratking" and "Dead Lagoon", the darkness of "And then you die" or the intense feel for the geography and people of "a long finish". "Cosi fan tutte" is a more sustained and better combination of humour, darkness, Italy and Zen - with its following the plot of Mozart and da Pontes Opera.
Is Dibdin bored? I hope not, he can write brilliantly about places I love, and at the edges of a genre which works well. This however feels lazier than his other books. Wait for the paperback - and till it is really cheap.