Friday, September 10, 2010

The Almond Picker by Simonetta Agnello Hornby

Published: 2002
Pages: 315
Genre: Adult fiction

Who was Mennulara? As the servant of the wealthy Alfallipe family, she made many impressions on people during her life. But was she simply the servant, or did she have deeper connections? Why was the mafia leader at her funeral? Why was she so wealthy? Why did she have such a high status in the family that she served?

This is an especially hard book to review for a couple of reasons. First of all, I haven't had the chance to devote a lot of time time to reading it. The book was a bit spaced out, and I feel like my enjoyment suffered because of it. Second, the nature of the book is so strange, and I'm not used to reading material like this! Let me elaborate on that.

The Almond Picker was translated from Italian in 2005 (which leads me to wonder how it would be possible to translate an entire book and not twist the author's meaning - that has always fascinated me). The story takes place during the course of the two or so weeks following the death of Mennulara. We are thrown into the past as each character remembers their experiences with this mysterious woman, some of which are horrifying and totally unexpected. The way the book is written is really cool, because Mennulara feels like the main character even though she's not alive. There's no way we can trust the memories of the various people, and that makes it all so exciting!

This book's strength clearly lies in its characters. And were they ever abundant! Like a big, fictional Italian family. The dynamics were there, the emotions were there, and the feuds were certainly there. Mimicking real life, certain people had issues that were long buried in the past and forgotten. It's only because of the present circumstances that we get to be spectators in this scandalous, mysterious, and slightly disturbing showcase of personal demons. It was a complex web of characters, but Hornby is an expert at making it make sense.

Despite a rather dry plot, The Almond Picker is a true gem. I don't know if it's because of the Italian-ness, but the book felt like a whole new level of literature. The ending is extremely open-ended, but there's no way to figure out the truths if the person involved is dead. Isn't that cool? I love unreliability in books, and was totally entranced by this one. I suggest you try it out of you aren't dependent on a fast-paced plot. Enjoy!


Cat said...

I know exactly what you mean - I read The Marchesa earlier this year but never reviewed it because I didn't quite know how to explain how I felt. Very different and hard to read at times ....and strange.

Elle said...

I love books like these! And I love the fact that the story actually consists of memories, because they are not to be trusted - a whole lotta psychological goodness! :)

Melissa said...

The writing, though perhaps with a dry plot, sounds intriguing! I'd definitely want to read this one. Great review :)

Juju at Tales of said...

Awesome review! A gem with good characters? Nice!

Jan von Harz said...

Wow great review. I love open ended endings too, and your statement about the reliability of the memories making the story more exciting is an interesting insight.

Lea (YA Book Queen) said...

This one does sound intriguing...Wonderful review :)

Aths said...

Thanks for sharing this! This book surely sounds good! Love open-ended endings and nicely done translations!

Emidy (Une Parole) said...

Cat - Oh, I know the feeling! Sometimes I have to force myself to write a review, and it's so hard to articulate why I love it so much.

Elle - Psychological goodness indeed... I agree! Love it.

Melissa - I'm glad you want to read it! It's such a great experience.

Juju - Thank you! That pretty much sums it up.

Jan - Aw, thanks for your comment! It really makes the book stand out.

Lea - It is, it is! And thank you.

Aths - Endings like this can sometimes be aggrivating, but it worked in this case!

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