SANDRO VERONESI has been at the forefront of the resurgence of Italian fiction. At 44, he counts as a bright young thing. The Force Of The Past won Italy's prestigious Campiello prize and, unlike the stories its central character reads to his son, is unlikely to induce sudden sleepiness.
When the driver of an unmarked car purporting to be a taxi offers Gianni Orzan, the novel's narrator, a suspiciously reasonable fare, he climbs in and submits his life to a transportation he never envisaged. The taxi driver, who has several names but becomes known as Bogliasco, tells him that Orzan's late father was not the right- wing bigot he seemed, but a KGB agent. As he is stalked by Bogliasco and his beliefs are changed, he no longer knows who he is, who his father was, or what their past together meant.
Orzan makes his living as an author of children's tales. It is fitting that he has to unscramble cleverly interwoven layers of fiction and memory - including the adventures of Pizzano Pizza, his award-winning creation - to come up with a re-reading of the past. But the process takes him close to breakdown. Writing itself - filling empty space with text - seems itself an attempt to control uncertainty. There is a preoccupation with type, signs, words and punctuation.
Gianni Orzan is not the only one in the novel to earn a living from writing: his father was a translator, as is his wife. Even Bogliasco is a published author who, at dinner, orders spaghetti in (inevitably) ink sauce, the …