i’ve just finished reading this novel by Italian novelist, Niccolo Ammaniti, for my book group. We have possibly the most ethnically diverse book group in Britain: France, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Columbia are all represented and one or two more. This is because we are a university group – Sheffield has students and staff from all over the world – and it means that we look at a fascinating wide range of books. I’d never have read Yamada’s STRANGERS or OUR TWISTED HERO by Korean writer, Yi Munyol, if it hadn’t been for the group. I’M NOT SCARED hits the ground running. You open the book and you’re in the sweltering heat of southern Italy in 1978 with a gang of children engaged in the feuds and dares and hectic excitement of childhood. Michele is nine and the story is told from his point of view. In undertaking a dare in a remote ruined house, he finds a filthy, almost mute little boy hidden in a hole in the ground. It soon becomes clear to the reader and to the narrator that the little boy has been kidnapped by a gang that includes Michele’s father and that the crime has involved the connivance of Michele’s mother. It’s well done, well written and well-translated, yet I wasn’t altogether convinced. There seemed to be no real reason why the child should have been treated so cruelly – and it doesn’t fit well with what we see of Michele’s father and mother who are rough but loving parents to their own children.
Next month it’s THREE MEN IN A BOAT! What could be more essentially English? I’ll be fascinated to hear what they all make of it . . I’ll let you know.