I’ve recently finished I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti. It is the first time I’ve read a modern Italian author in translation I think so I approached it with interest, especially after reading some excellent reviews of it. I should caveat this review with the fact that this book was first published in English in 2003, so I am a little late to this!
I’m Not Scared is set in a seemingly endless summer, in a world which seems by turns boring and terrifying. Ammaniti captures the sense of stifling heat really well – I could just imagine struggling to sleep in the tiny little room Michele shares with his sister. The writing in general is beautifully taut which suits the story perfectly. I imagine that this came across even more strikingly in the original Italian. The imagery is also superb, with fields, farmhouses and their tiny village all vividly described. Where this book did not work for me was that I could not really care about the characters. The matter-of-fact narrative and spare style put too much distance between myself as the reader and Michele, Maria, their Mama and even Filippo ultimately. For that reason, I finished I’m Not Scared in quite an ambivalent frame of mind about it. I think perhaps this is one of the rare occasions that the film might work better than the book for me because the imagery is so cinematic. One for the Love Film list!
This book did get me thinking about some of the other great stories told by child narrators – To Kill a Mockingbird springs to mind immediately. Both Harper Lee and Ammaniti manage to capture a horror in everyday language, describing terrible violence in deceptively gentle ways. I think the juxtaposition of childhood with very adult themes like corruption and kidnap often makes it much more powerful than had it been narrated from an adult point of view and as such it is a great technique.