I spent one of the most wonderful fortnights of my life in Naples; I’ve also read Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah and thought the film made of it was brilliant, particularly the fact that they filmed at the “Vele”, the gigantic apartment complex that dominates Scampia, one of the wretchedly poor and indelibly criminal banlieus of Naples. The film “Gomorrah” seemed to me like an Italian version of “The Wire”, the inhabitants of the Vele as trapped in their customary roles – drug addicts, drug dealers, criminals – as any of the denizens of Baltimore’s West Side.
Why am I mentioning all of this? Because in The Collaborator, the story of a Mafia princess who is driven to turn against her family by a great wrong done to someone she loves, Gerald Seymour managed to bring back in Technicolor both my good (personal) and terrible (literary/cinematic) memories of Naples. Immacolata Borelli is a great character – she’s hard, cold, cruel, and sometimes self-righteous, but she also ends up being as immaculately brave as her name suggests. The Collaborator isn’t only her story, though; it’s also the story of Eddie, the young Englishman who fell in love with her and the thug Salvatore who’s never known another life and of Lukas, a hostage negotiator who’s “the best of the best.” And I think therein lies the reason why I didn’t completely love this novel (although I liked it very, very much!) Lukas’s thoughts just weren’t as Immacolata’s, even though on paper he was probably the most interesting of them all. I also wish Seymour had given us a little more to chew on, about why exactly, Immacolata felt so strongly about this particular friend that the friend’s tragic fate moved her to her great act of betrayal (from the perspective of her family) or renunciation of evil (from the perspective of everyone else.) We never got enough background on this, I think – was it the normality of the girl’s life that appealed to her, as tainted as she was by her own family’s criminality? Or was it just that the girl treated her as a person, rather than as the principessa of the Borelli clan. Given that Immacolata does all she does because of this friend, I felt that there should have been more information provided to us about her. Also, honestly, Eddie was kind of a dumbass, even though I did come to admire his courage under duress; if a girl won’t tell you her last name, give you her mobile number, or let you come to her place, chances are she’s just not that into you, Eddie! And if only he’d just recognized that fact, maybe a couple of people wouldn’t have been killed.
Still, The Collaborator was leagues above the quick suspense read I was expecting when I picked the book up at a charity booksale because it was about Naples; Seymour created an atmospheric, well-written, and almost unbearably tense portrait of a city and a woman in conflict between their best and worst selves, and I found a new-to-me author whose work I look forward to exploring!
(Read from January 12-January 14, 2013)