Lives of the Saints (Ricci)

Lives of the Saints - Nino Ricci

Had this novel ended after 200 pages, I probably would have called it well-observed, low-key, a little distant and foreign to me. There is relatively little incident in it, though most of the main characters end up getting physically injured, through fist-fighting, snake-bite, geriatric falls or other happenstances of life in a somewhat rough-and-tumble, very small Italian town post WW II. It is told from the point of view of Vittorio, a young boy, but with a fairly adult understanding (though without any spoilerish references to future events). We are, however, left to glean for ourselves, from the plentiful evidence, that Vittorio's mother Cristina - effectively a single mother, since her husband has emigrated without her to America - has had an adulterous affair and is now pregnant. Much of the novel shows Cristina defiantly dealing with the fallout of this in her family and small community, where she does not conform to expected behaviour. Meanwhile, Vittorio also feels the backlash at school (it is a sympathetic schoolmistress who preserves him from the worst of the after-school bullying by holding him back to sweep the floor and listen to stories of the lives of the saints).


Cristina escapes into the big world - specifically an ocean liner taking her and Vittorio to Halifax, where she does not intend to re-join her husband. Here are a brand new set of characters and a brand new set of social mores (there's a fairly amusing byplay with the Captain's jealous wife). But the real world turns out to be too big and cruel for Cristina, and there is a catastrophic conclusion for her and her unborn child. I've left that vague for the sake of future readers, but I suppose even that deserves a spoiler tag.


For me, the first part of the novel was a pleasant read, but it was the conclusion, with its sudden, violent action, that gripped me and that now remains chiefly in my memory a few weeks after finishing the book.