The Crossroads, by Niccolo Ammaniti

After reading  Niccolo Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared, which was full of elegant prose, subtle characterisation and a cleverly constructed story, I was excited when I found Crossroads  in my local bookshop. I even paid £10.99 for the pleasure. But I’m still questioning if it was worth it.

In the first 10 pages, I knew that this wasn’t the Ammaniti book I was expecting. Straight off the bat, the violence, the gritty realism and the effing and blinding jumped off the page, in an explosive introduction to the main characters. All preconceptions were immediately dispelled. (It’s always dangerous to expect a certain style of writing from an author – it often leads to disappointment.) I gradually began to enjoy the shocks and general bleakness of this cartoon like assortment of oddball characters.

The story follows a teenage boy, Cristiano Zena, who lives a squalid existence in a pre-fab house that his alcoholic, nazi loving father, Rino, built while a construction worker years before. Rino has a rag tag pair of friends, Danilo and Quattro Formaggi (because he loves that flavour of pizza) each of whom has fallen on hard times and join Rino, the aggressive and unpredictable leader, for drinking sessions and half heated attempts to get labouring work.

This is a book of interweaving stories, all connecting to this trio of adults who have a plan to ram raid a cash machine, split the loot and make better lives for themselves. In great heist-gone-wrong tradition, nothing goes as planned and everyone’s lives are affected dramatically as a result.

There is a lot of fun to be had here, but I couldn’t help thinking that Ammaniti was trying too hard to make his characters ‘quirky;’ that this was written with one eye on Hollywood, thinking of the film rights with every outrageous act.

It isn’t a patch on I’m Not Scared, and that’s perhaps why I was so disappointed. There was also nothing here that showed the subtlety and nuance either. If I am Not Scared is a whisper, then this is a bloody great mega-phone boom. I never fully engaged with these characters- they felt like part of a graphic novel and never quite believable.

It reminded me of Tim Willocks  (great writer, filmic to the max) in the sense that these books feel like the precursor to a hollywood film.

Don’t get me wrong, Ammaniti has done a god job here, but with such genius as I’m Not Scared to live up to, it’s really no wonder this one falls short.

Fun, but self conscious, gritty but bitty…

(Have you noticed Friday reviews are always shorter?)

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