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una lama di luce

27 july 2012

Una lama di luce – a "blade" of light, though the more idiomatic English translation might be "shaft" – is one of Andrea Camilleri's more enigmatic titles, until about halfway through the nineteenth Commissario Montalbano novel. Camilleri eventually explains all his titles, but sometimes they are obliquely related to the main events of a novel. In Una lama di luce, the shaft of light is important to an unimportant subplot that turns out to be a turning point in Montalbano's character development. If that makes any sense: and I'm about to spoil the plot by explaining.

In Una lama di luce, Montalbano falls in love with a woman who's not his longterm partner from Genoa, Livia – for about the 19th time in 19 novels. He has always before come to his senses and returned to Livia rather than go off with the other woman. Admittedly, this is sometimes because the other woman has been killed by the bad guys, as in Il gioco degli specchi, but he'd have gone back to Livia anyway. He always does.

Una lama di luce presents Montalbano with a woman who very nearly tears him away from Livia, though. Her name is Marian, she's an art dealer, she's gotten involved in a shady deal, but she's on the up-and-up (and Montalbano is able to help her extract herself from the con men who are setting her up). Like so many of Montalbano's love interests, Marian is scarcely developed as a character. She breezes into the story, is taken with our hero, and falls into bed with him more than voluntarily. But then she doesn't give up. Away on an art-collecting trip to Milan, she phones him twice a night. She seems to want nothing from him except to be with him (and that's a refreshing change from the temporary girlfriends of the last several Montalbano novels). They develop a phone rapport, after some initial stammering by Montalbano, and he has to ask himself "da quanto tempo non parlava accussí con Livia? [How long had it been since he'd talked like that with Livia?]" (84)

Real suspense develops around Montalbano's choices in this novel, even as the cases he's investigating (a robbery that turned out to be a scam, a weird episode of a door appearing on an isolated country shed) are minor stuff for murderous Vigáta. And then "una lama di luce" appears – though in typically Camillerian usage, the Italian title is given in Sicilian in the text: "'na lama di luci" (120). The shaft of light comes from a hideout where a Tunisian dissident is plotting revolutionary activity against his nation's repressive regime. And that dissident turns out to be a vital link between Montalbano and Livia, one that spans nearly the entire length of the series.

To spoil the story completely (though to leave most of its detection uncommented-on), Montalbano once again resolves to marry Livia and resist the other woman. But this time it's another woman that he really seems to love, and who loves him – and he has no feelings left for Livia at all. She's bored with him, all they do is fight, and he never tells her the truth about the smallest thing (though that's been the pattern of their relationship from the start). Yet as the events of the mysterious-door/Tunisian-dissident subplot resolve, Montalbano resolves to fly to Livia and marry her.

At this point, aside from just hoping there's a 20th Montalbano novel anyway, I really hope he does marry Livia. It will be the stagnation of the series if once again he wakes up in Marinella at the start of the 20th book to find no Livia beside him, an argument with her on the phone scheduled for that evening, and another gorgeous but ultimately unobtainable woman in the offing.

Camilleri, Andrea. Una lama di luce. Palermo: Sellerio, 2012.