I’m Not Scared, by Niccolo Ammaniti

** March Book of the Month**

I’ve reviewed  quite a few books on this site that I’ve enjoyed, and this month there have been two or three that I’ve really liked. But I loved Niccolo Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared.

When I’m choosing some paperbacks to read (those good old three for two’s), I’ll usually pick two that I’ve heard about, ones that i might have read good reviews on.  Or they might be recommendations. Pretty standard really. But it’s the third book that I always spend more time on. I like to choose something I wouldn’t normally read. It has to be an author I’ve never heard of, or a genre I’m not especially familiar with. I root through the shelves for a title or a book cover (yes I judge by them) that strikes me.  And I’m Not Scared was one of these random choices that has happily turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read this year.

It’s a taught, tightly plotted thriller, set in the sweltering heat of a small Italian village, where dogs laze in the shade, the smell of ragu wafts through open doorways and the restless village children ride around on their bicycles getting up to mischief.

The story is narrated by nine year old Michele, who is a member of a little gang of kids who scuffle, dare each other, play practical jokes and ride through the lush, golden countryside, trying to keep themselves entertained in rural southern Italy.

Michele makes a shocking discovery during one of their adventures, which is the catalyst for a series of events that leaves an indelible mark on Michele, his family and the village.

Ammaniti’s writing is so assured that he inhabits the nine year old Michele effortlessly. It never feels like he is feigning the thoughts of a young boy, nor is it ever condescending. It rings true with every sentence. And because of the strength of the narrative, the reader is put in a position of authority;  Ammaniti allows you to understand the full implications of what is happening before Michele does, making his slow realisation incredibly tense and riveting, as you urge him to put the puzzle together.

The writing style perfectly reflects the nine year old Michele’s view of the world; his awe with new experiences; his wild imagination controlling his fears and actions; the confusion and lack of understanding when confronted with adult behaviour.

The adults here have an intriguing presence in the book. To Michele, they are the people who shout and argue, who do things he cannot understand. But even as Michele is left bewildered by encounters with adults, the reader is able to glean little tit-bits of information that help piece together the mystery.

This is more than a mystery though. It is an amazing look at the impact our formative experiences have on us. How huge the world is, how frightening and confusing it can be.  It paints a fascinating picture of family life and the influence of adult behaviour on impressionable youths.

Without too much gushing- and for fear of giving away any plot details, I’ll end by saying this is a profound story, brilliantly written. It is such a great book that you’ll read it urgently to find out what happens, only to be sorry when it’s all over.

(The book is insistently filmic, so I was pleased to hear  Gabriele Salvatores, director of Mediterraneo, adapted it for the screen. Once I’ve tracked it down, I’ll post my review. Watch this space…)


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