This story of a cantankerous old loner, who lives in his valley up in the Alpine meadows, is a wonderful black comedy. Adelmo’s memory is beginning to fail and at the beginning, when he makes his seasonal trip down the mountain to stock up for winter, he is rather non-plussed by the store owner telling him he did his trip the other week already. He buys more and retreats back up the mountain where he is found by an old stray dog. Adelmo decides to let him stay (he could be food one day), and they settle in to wait for winter. Their only visitor is the young ranger, whom Adelmo is convinced is spying on him.
Adelmo Farandola hasn’t washed in months, letting his stench create a cloud of warmth around him. Sweat and grim have been allowed to build up on his skin in peace, alongside wind-blown dirt, dust from the stable, the various pollens that colour the air at certain times of year, and clumps of dead skin. With the passing months he has developed a delightful sticky coating all over his body, which he only notices from time to time when a little itch awakens him from a daze and obliges him to bend and contort himself to reach the spot he needs to scratch. His skin has turned brown, the colour of sun-baked dust and mud.

Winter is severe, they’re snowed in and man and dog go through all the supplies he laid in. They’re surviving on crumbs and melted snow, getting thinner and thinner. But the thaw arrives and both survive: Adelmo has forgotten about eating the dog. The thaw brings a discovery with it though – a rotting foot appears jutting from the snow.

The next day, as they are stocking up on meat from the animals torn apart by avalanches. Adelmo Farandola stumbles across a foot sticking out of the front of a snowdrift.
‘Look,’ he says to the dog in bemusement.
‘It’s the foot from yesterday,’ says the dog.
‘Don’t you remember?’
‘It’s the foot from yesterday, I’m telling you.’
‘And what should we do? What did we decide to do yesterday?’
‘Nothing. Wait for the thaw.’
‘Yes. To be honest, I didn’t really agree, but you…’

A few days later, the old man discovers the foot again.
‘A foot!’
‘Will you stop that! It’s still the same foot as before!’ shouts the dog exasperatedly.

I couldn’t resist that second extended quote, which highlights both the novella’s black humour and Adelmo’s increasing senility. As the days continue, I read on, totally gripped by the body in the ice and the predicament that Adelmo (and particularly the dog) find themselves in.

Translation of this novella was part of a recent prize partly run by publisher Peirene for new translators, and J Ockenden has done a mighty fine job here with the humour and pathos for the characters. In Adelmo’s state, we can totally believe that the dog can talk. First published in 2015, this novella was an Italian bestseller, and I hope we can see more of his work in the future in translation. (See also: Rebecca’s review).


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