Exclusive: Q&A with Claudio Morandini, author of Snow, Dog, Foot

Translated by Maddie Rogers


Last month, we asked you to submit questions for Claudio Morandini, author of Snow, Dog, Foot. Claudio was very pleased to be able to dialogue with you and eager to answer your questions – read on for his thoughts on Adelmo Farandola’s character, writing the mountain, and the Peirene Stevns Prize.


What was your inspiration for the character Adelmo Farandola? Can you tell us more about your encounter with the hermit?

In the afterword I wrote for the Italian edition but which is missing from the English one, I told a story of bumping into an old man with an incredibly dirty dog at his side as I was going up a mountain path; the old man greeted me by pelting me with pine cones and stones. In reality, this encounter never happened and its only purpose was to draw out the pleasure of narrative invention, and muddy the waters a little. But various readers have told me that they have met solitary old men like the one that I pretended to have seen, and that they too were met with a hail of pebbles and pine cones.

I’ve always imagined Adelmo as a mix of Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush (certain scenes between man and dog in the cabin are an homage to that film) and the old, short-tempered, worn out Louis de Funès from La soupe aux choux.

I was searching for an elusive character, someone hard to pin down, which Adelmo is: he keeps everyone at a distance, even the reader. The passages in which I linger over the most unpleasant details of his filthiness have the exact function of maintaining that distance, of avoiding any label that fits too easily. Adelmo is not one of us, he’s not simply a reclusive old man escaping from civilisation, a homo selvaticus, or some kind of shaman, or a clinical case of senile dementia. Every attempt to understand him, or to define him, fails. He’s mysterious, ambiguous and slippery, and so he forces us to ask questions about his nature, and consequently about our own too.


In the book, it says Adelmo comes down to the village in April. What do you think he would make of the world now, coming down off the mountain to find everyone else in isolation too?

Would he even notice? Who knows. Would he find himself at ease? He’s made isolation a way of life, and I think that seeing it imposed upon others would put a smug smirk on his face.

Anyway, his way of living in isolation is not advisable, not even in times like these: Adelmo is not a model to be followed, a wise old man, a champion of “degrowth”, or an enthusiast of lost traditional ways of life. He has cut ties with the past, and with tradition too (the tools in the cowshed are void of meaning for him); he has few habits, only those that he manages to remember, he relies on few reflexes, and he’s surviving rather than living, like a wounded animal deep in its lair. We can worry about him, feel sympathy for him, contemplate him, but not envy him, I don’t think, without stretching the deepest meaning of the novel.


In their translator’s note, J describes the mountain as the third protagonist of the book. Do you agree? How did your own relationship with nature inform your writing?

Yes, that’s exactly it. The mountain is a heavy, intrusive presence. It shapes the lives of all the characters, starting with Adelmo and his vision of the world: the mountain is verticality, the hidden horizon, it is shadow, coldness, rock, rubble, exhaustion, closedness, constraint, collapse. The real mountain is not inhabitable or accessible: it is not beautiful, it concedes nothing, it does not restore you, does not warm you, does not help you. The spaces in the mountains change constantly, your perspective changes with every step, the visitor’s eye is constantly deceived, their senses and their balance are put to the test – it’s like finding yourself right in the middle of an anamorphosis.

I tried to write about a mountain different from the sort you usually find in mountain novels these days: in mine, instead of climbing it, paradoxically you descend, you sink down. Perhaps the fact that I’m not an alpinist and suffer from vertigo has influenced this, because I always view the mountain from below, from the bottom of the valley, I see it looming, casting dark shadows.  Perhaps my mountain has more affinity with the Gothic narratives of the 18th century than with today’s.


It becomes increasingly clear that Adelmo’s behaviour is influenced at least partly by the lingering trauma of the war. Is this something that you would say has generally affected the psyche and collective memory of the region?

Adelmo only has a few memories of his past, and his escape from the searches of the mountainside during the war is among them (the other recurring memory is the buzzing of the electricity cables over the village). They are confused, fragmented memories to which he clings in his attempt to find an explanation for what is happening to him and for what he feels himself becoming. That flight from the men in grey coats, in particular, was what first pushed him to hole up like an animal in the bowels of the earth, and to contend with hunger, darkness and fear and begin to converse with them. The real Adelmo, the visionary, incapable of distinguishing between reality and dreams, was born there, in the depths of that abandoned mine. It’s true that in the regions of the Alps where the fiercest clashes between the partisans and the Nazis took place, in the final years of the Second World War, the memory is still alive, but I don’t know if the trauma of the war is as strong, as intimate for the rest of the community as it is for Adelmo: many will have overcome it, or repressed it, or placed it within a wider historical and human picture, or reduced it to a story, an epic parable.


How did you conceive of the talking dog as the foil to Adelmo’s character? Does he reflect Adelmo’s own thoughts?

When I started writing the book, the dog was a simple companion, an animal “double” of Adelmo. Then he became a comedic character, gifted with his own sense of humour, a good entertainer. When he begins to speak it’s all very natural, but I can’t say whether the dog speaks because this story is a kind of fairy tale, and in fairy tales it’s normal for animals to talk, or whether his eloquence exists only in Adelmo’s hallucinatory imagination. I wanted to keep this ambiguity, which I like a lot.

The dog’s presence is also fundamental to the balance of the book: he brings humour and lightness. Imagine if it had just been Adelmo’s crazed grumbling – it would have been unbearable! Of the two of them, the dog is undoubtedly the more human, more civilised figure, and this is what allows Adelmo to retrieve and savour a little of his residual humanity over the course of the last two seasons, before the end.


What was it like having your book be the prize for a translation competition and then be translated by a first-time translator? Were you anxious?

Anxious? No, I was totally confident! During the process of their translation, J Ockenden asked me questions which showed scrupulous attention to the text, particularly about the atmosphere of the Alps, and I was happy to answer them. I even shared some photographs of the little unexplored valleys that had inspired the novel’s setting with them. In any case, the translation work was carried out during a retreat in the Pyrenees, so under ideal conditions which any translator would want. I think that every translator deserves to have a degree of freedom, and that the author should stand aside and not impose their vision. Translating is like orchestrating, like arranging. I myself have ended up learning a lot from the translation of my books.


What is the real identity of the dead man, if he’s not the ranger?

Look, I don’t know! For a few pages I played with the reader’s expectations suggesting that it could be the ranger, but I really don’t know who it is. The readers, here in Italy but also elsewhere, have come up with all sorts of strange hypotheses on his identity, but there are no right or wrong answers, just a mystery that stays a mystery. I hope this isn’t too frustrating for the readers – some readers in Italy have protested against this and other questions that remain unanswered.

I also hope I’m not spoiling the surprise of the last pages for anyone here, and I don’t want to push ahead too much (if you want you can skip straight to the next question): for me it was more interesting that even the corpse became a part of the hallucinated world of Adelmo Farandola (and that he therefore began to speak, taking the place of the dog) in order to lead Adelmo into the earth, into the rock, definitively.


As a British reader, Adelmo’s alpine world is not what we first imagine when we think of Italy. Can you recommend any other Italian authors whose books show a different side of Italy?

To write about the mountain in a certain way – that is, without searching out the picturesque, without the typical affectations of those who come from the city and think like citydwellers – which you don’t usually see in contemporary books about the mountains, I reread the near-forgotten books of a great author, Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, who was not Italian but French-speaking Swiss. I acknowledged my debt to him in the afterword which wasn’t included in the English edition. But I also want to mention some Italian authors who are very important to me: Dino Buzzati, for example, for how he mixes realism with the fantastic, whether he’s writing about the mountains or the city; Italo Calvino, naturally, for his incredibly attentive way of looking at things (in Italy we are all still a little “Calvinian”, whether we want to be or not); the dog’s self-assured patter might have been amusing to a humourist like Achille Campanile. I could also mention an author from Liguria, Francesco Biamonti, who knew well how to write, with a sharp poetic sensibility, about the exhaustion of a life lived entirely in ascent (but all Ligurian writers are good at this, Liguria is a long slice of mountain which falls suddenly into the sea).

(Peirene Press; translated by Maddie Rogers)

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