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Book Reviews

By Phil Thornton 

 

The Dark Heart Of Italy (revised edition) - Tobias Jones (Faber & Faber)

 

First published five years ago, this updated version of Jones’s excellent book has been revised in light of its chief protagonist, Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power in Italian politics and the knock-on effect this has had on the country’s media, football, culture and society.

 

Jones received some flak in the Italian media for his book and although foreign writers who criticise a nation whilst living in the country they criticise are often disproved of, it’s obvious that he is a person who loves Italy and the Italian way of life yet is frustrated by its innate corruption .Corruption and Italy go together like pasta and sauce. You cannot have one without the other and whereas Jones appears to place the root of the problem back to the creation of the post-fascist republic during the 40s and 50s, the fact is that Italian society has been open to bribery, nepotism, fraud, murder, gangsterism and Masonic self-interest  since Roman times. Nor, as Jones believes is it a peculiarly Italian ailment. He notes how the Italian reacted to his high-minded British puritanical streak when the Cash For Honours scandal unfolded, as if this was the first occasion any British politician or businessman had been caught bribing their pay into positions of influence. Politics is corrupt at every level in every country and always has been it’s just that the Italians are far more open about it.

 

What Jones’s book is great on, although he does labour the point, is how Italian society appears not only to accept corruption as a way of life but has been almost forced into lawlessness by a stifling bureaucracy which demands every citizen must have forms for almost every trivial matter and a legal system that never punishes the powerful, whether they be fascist bombers or tax dodging industrialists. Into this moral vacuum, everyone feels foolish if they’re not using ’forba’ (cunning) to connive and cheat. What separates Italian cheats from those of other nations, however, is that they do it with such style and Jones’s  description of every facet of Italian culture, from the language to the landscape, from football to food,  from Catholicism to climate, ensures that readers empathise with his vision of a country that is perhaps the most sensual in the world (certainly in Europe).

 

In Italy, more so than any other ‘western’ nation, politics of the left and right still adhere to old notions of Communist and Fascist. This is not the empty posturing of the BNP or Respect; these people REALLY mean it maaaan. They conspire, they collaborate, they confuse and they kill. Smashing McDonalds windows is not the act of an Italian anarchist who’d rather blow up the CEO of McDonalds to drive their point home. And because fascism is still a living, breathing presence in most Italian cities, so the leftist organisations, the neo-Red Brigades and official communist and socialist parties continue to exert an influence that has disappeared in most other European countries.

 

Berlusconi’s presence is The Dark Heart Of Italy is everywhere; his sly, sinister face stares from the cover together with footballers and an angel against a backdrop of the tricolour. How Italian is that? Now out of power and finding his multi-platform media empire being challenged (as is Murdoch’s) by the competition upholding bureaucrats of the EU, Berlusconi emerges as a malignant yet entertaining presence in not only Italian but European and world politics. He’s a gangster pure and simple. A skilful operator, an acute and ambitious capitalist, a flamboyant and  charismatic charmer but never a diplomat or a consensus seeker. In today’s era of bland, identikit career politicians, old Silvio (now in his 70s) comes across as an unrepentant symbol of old skool chutzpah. The man is a creep, a mobbed up murderous, megalomaniac monster (the kind of fellar who builds a man made volcano to brighten up his Sardinian estate) who has corrupted and bribed his way to become one of the most powerful men in modern politics, yet as with many of his countrymen, at least he did it with style.

 

 

 

 

What’s Not To Love? - Jonathan Ames (Scribner)

 

Sub-titled ’The adventures of a mildly perverted young writer’ this collection of Ames’s columns for the New York Press is a laugh out loud book about one man’s relationship with his penis. Ames is a self-confessed wanker and describes how his late teenage puberty manifested itself in a curious attachment to his mother, transsexuals and 15 dollar trailer mistresses (amongst other things). Although Ames uses the word Oedipal to describe his momma fixation, what’s always missed when people use this world is that the whole point of the Oedipus story is that he didn’t know he was shagging his ma. That’s why, when he finds out, he blinds himself. But that’s a small gripe that I’ll overlook for chapters with titles such as ‘An Erection Is a Felony,’ ’I Shit My Pants In The South Of France,’ ’Insomni-Whack,’ ’Enemas: A Love Story,’ ’Bald, Impotent & Depressed’ and ‘The Lord Of The Genitals.’ If you enjoy reading brutally honest accounts of shagging 60 odd year old women, getting blow jobs from old men in Venice, smoking crack with black transsexuals on Christmas day, mates who design prostthetic vaginas for men called ’manginas’ and munching on young Greek girls terrified of AIDs, then this is the book for you. And Ames is no plazzy ‘mild pervert’ either. First published in 2000, the author came over to Liverpool a few years later to take part in the Writing On The Wall festival. Our mate was charged with driving him to his hotel and reports that  Ames demanded to be taken to various red light areas and appeared to be obsessed with finding a brass for the night, but then he was outa town for a few days so what’s a guy to do? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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