What does the cultural climate of 1960s Britain have in common with 17th-century Sicily? In both cases, as with the political landscape of the Western world right now, politicians could choose to use their positions to further their own personal interests or for the common good. They could fight prejudice and discrimination against women and outsiders, or they could fan the flames of fear in the service of their own ambition. From that perspective, one of these novels is about a hero, the other about one whose pride precedes a fall. Each is a deftly plotted and engaging read.
The Revolution of the Moon by Andrea Camilleri
April 1677, and Sicily is under Spanish rule. When the Viceroy dies, the six members of the Holy Royal Council are astonished to learn that he has named his wife, the beautiful and enigmatic donna Eleonora di Mora as his successor. Despite the humiliation of being subservient to a woman, the councillors resolve to pull together to ensure the island continues to be governed in their interest. But they haven’t bargained for Eleonora’s political acumen and egalitarian ethics. Despite their opposition, she sets about reforming the country, tackling poverty and corruption, and freeing orphaned women and children from prostitution. But it can’t last. The Church in particular is offended by her actions, and the machinations of the Bishop and his cronies eventually bring down her rule. Nevertheless, what she’s achieved is remarkable, and in only twenty-seven days – or one revolution of the moon.
Andrea Camilleri is described as “one of the greatest living Italian writers”, renowned for his Montalbano crime series. Although I’d not come across him, being attracted to this novel by the story rather than the reputation of its author, I could detect the skills of a crime writer in the skilfully managed suspenseful plot. Based on a genuine history, it’s a beautifully imagined celebration of a brave and intelligent woman’s determined fight for social justice.
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli, it’s a light read with a slightly satirical tone. I did wonder about the preponderance of phrases left in Spanish (presumably from the original) emphasising Eleonora’s outsider status (although we’re told she learnt Italian as a child), which I found a little distracting, even though my Spanish was adequate to the task of translating as I went along. The Revolution of the Moon is published in the UK by Europa editions to whom thanks for my review copy.