The Guardian, by John Self
From married life to the murder of her husband … the Italian author shows a deft lightness of touch in these moving pieces written between 1944 and 1960
So light is the touch of the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg in these 11 essays, written between 1944 and 1960 and translated by Dick Davis, that they might float through the reader’s mind unimpeded, if it weren’t for the ballast hidden within.
A charming piece on early married life gives way to the memory of her husband’s murder by fascist police. “But that was the best time of my life, and only now that it has gone from me for ever – only now do I realise it.”
Writing about shoes and comparing herself to a friend, she notes that her friend’s lack of children means “she can give in to the temptation to let her life go to pieces”.
Most affecting of all might be an unleavened piece on her friend, the poet and novelist Cesare Pavese, written a few years after he took his own life “in a hotel near the station; he wanted to die like a stranger in the city to which he belonged”.
Ginzburg’s deceptively simple style has made fans of Zadie Smith and Maggie Nelson; it is hard to imagine anyone who reads The Little Virtues not wanting to join their gang.