Bad weather and isolation calling …
by Lizzy Siddal

The weather in Lanarkshire was so appalling in February that I don’t think I left the house more than twice or thrice. Turns out it was a trial run for the current lockdown, and it gave me a chance to catch up on books put by for winter. I find I cannot read books set in cold snowy climes unless it is the same outside. Is it just me? (…)

Isolation plays a key role in the latest release from Peirene Press. The protagonist in Claudio Morandini‘s Snow, Dog, Foot, translated from Italian by the winner of the inaugural Peirene Stevns Translation Prize, J Ockenden, is a misanthropic hermit. Living high in the Italian Alps, Adelmo Farandola descends into the village only to bulk buy his provisions for winter; his only company a mangy old dog. Whether such solitude is good for him is questionable, for the dog talks to him …
In favourable season he wanders and hunts, though not always in season. Which explains why he is not happy to keep chancing upon a young mountain ranger. When winter comes, he and the dog are snowed in. In marked contrast to Christiane Ritter who always ensured that there was an accessible entry/exit to her shelter, even when Arctic storms raged for days, Farandola allows snow to pile up and bury his. (This was my first inkling that all was not going to end well.) As winter progresses and provisions deplete, there are some very odd conversations

(The dog sighs)
”Stop that!”, the old man bursts out at last.
“What was I doing?”
“No, I wasn’t. Although I’d have every excuse to. First you invite me to stay, and then you find out you don’t have food for two. You’re an idiot.”
“If I catch you, I’m cooking you.”

Like Mikkl, Ritter’s polar fox, this animal has a lucky escape, the thaw arriving just in time. But as the snow melts, a gruesome discovery is made. A foot emerges from the frozen snow, followed by a whole human corpse. Our hermit is reluctant to hike down the mountain to report the find. Is this due to his natural antipathies, valid concerns about the dangers of the trek in the half-frozen terrain, or something else entirely?
Of course by this time I am quite convinced that Farandola is completely mad. The dénouement confirms it, though it’s surprising how lucid a mad man can be …
There were times when this novella made me laugh out loud. It is preposterous but with some great comic timing. All the while though, the action is dark, leading ultimately to a very dark place indeed. While providing no great philosophical insights (except perhaps that total long-term isolation is really bad for you), Snow, Dog, Foot is terrifically entertaining. One of my favourite Pereines.

(Lizzy Siddal, Lizzy’s Literary Life)

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