Big Fat Book Readalong, Week 1

by Sunita

I’m reporting in on my first week of reading. Recall that I am reading I Promessi Sposi, or The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni. This is a historical novel set in the 17thC, written in the 19thC, and considered the Great Italian Novel. Verdi’s Requiem was written in honor of Manzoni shortly after his death (I did not know this until I started reading about the book). Manzoni is also considered an important figure in the unification of Italy and the book is a major factor in the development of a common Italian language.

All this sounds very highbrow and intimidating. Don’t be fooled. The book is really enjoyable. From the very first chapter I knew I was in good hands, and I remembered why I spent so much of my teens and twenties reading 19thC literature. There’s an omniscient narrator, a huge cast of characters (all with their own backstories), lots of description, and enough plot to choke a horse. Here is a quintessential example of two paragraphs in the middle of a major scene:

In the first room all was confusion; Renzo, groping about with his hands, trying to stop the priest, as if he was playing at blindman’s bluff, had found the door, and was knocking on it, shouting. ‘Open up! Open up! Don’t make such a row!’ Lucia was calling Renzo in a feeble voice, and begging. ‘Let’s go; let’s go! For the love of God.’ Tonio was crawling about on all fours, scouring the floor with his hands, to try and find his receipt. Gervaso was screaming and jumping about like one possessed, looking for the door on to the stairs to get out to safety.

We cannot forbear pausing a moment to make a reflection in the midst of all this uproar. Renzo, who had raised all this noise in someone else’s house, who had got in by a trick, and was now keeping the master of the house himself besieged in a room, has all the appearance of being the aggressor; and yet, if one thinks it out, he was the injured party. Don Abbondio, surprised, terrified, and put to flight while peacefully attending to his own affairs, might seem the victim, and yet, in reality, it was he who was doing the wrong. Such is often the way the world goes .. I mean, that’s the way it went in the seventeenth century.

I love that Manzoni “cannot forbear …” He really can’t. But the asides and ruminations are a big part of the attraction.

The plot is too complicated to explain, so let me sum up. Renzo and Lucia want to marry, and Don Abbondio (illegally) refuses to perform the ceremony because he has been threatened by the evil Don Rodrigo, who wants Lucia for himself. There is an ecclesiastical loophole by which our young lovers plan to force the priest to accede to the ceremony and become man and wife, but their plan goes awry. In the first eight chapters we meet these four, Lucia’s mother Agnese, the brilliant and good monk Fra Cristoforo, sundry villagers and Bad People, and more. I have a feeling things are going to go even more awry very, very soon.

The edition I’m reading is 610 pages long, plus there’s an introduction. I wanted to get to p. 150 or so, but I only made it to p. 130. But that’s OK. We are not grading each other on how far we get. This is supposed to be FUN. And this book, so far, is fun.

Reading the Everyman’s Library edition is a mixed bag. It’s a beautiful edition, with nice paper, and the font is very readable. But it’s like reading on the original iPad, i.e., heavy. I read sitting up or stretched out with the book propped up on my lap. And forget bedtime reading, unless I want to keep TheHusband up with a very bright light. On the other hand, it makes reading its own activity, not something I do while I’m doing something else. I am definitely concentrating while I’m reading, and that probably enhances the immersive experience. On balance, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages so far, although I’m not giving up digital reading any time soon.

How about you? How was your week? Tell us in the comments.

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