Monday 15 November 2010

Penguin no. 880: The Woman of Rome
by Alberto Moravia

I’m away from my collection of books at present. I’ve been travelling light in Europe this month, without any books, showing my three young children something of the world. And so it was delightful to find this numbered Penguin sitting on the bookshelf of our Rome apartment. But I was under pressure to read it quickly, as it runs to 381 pages, and it was only mine for 4 days.

The book is by Alberto Moravia. It tells the story of a young and exceedingly beautiful lower class Italian woman named Adriana. She begins as an artist’s model, dreaming of marriage and family, but through the intervention of others she proceeds to prostitution. To be lower class in this society is to be uneducated and ignorant, and Adriana is presented as typical of her class. The fact that the story is told in the first person presented the author with a dilemma: in reality Adriana could never be as self-aware as this character must be to tell her story.

The most striking aspect of this book is its foreignness. It describes a different world, that of the Italian slums, so that Adriana's thoughts, feelings and actions make no sense to me. The background is fascist Italy, where to think differently from the government is a crime. Alongside this though, the book is filled with very perceptive analyses of the way people are and the way they behave.

Of course, the best part was reading this book in Rome. It was wonderful to go out at night and stroll the Via del Corso watching the Passagiata, and then to come back and read a description of it in a book published more than 60 years ago.

Also by Alberto Moravia:
Penguin no. 2371: The Fancy Dress Party
Penguin no. 1460: Two Adolescents
Penguin no. 1357: Roman Tales

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