Reviewer: Philipa Coughlan
Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press (New Jersey) October 2021
ISBN: 978-95238621 PB
“What mattered to me was to go somewhere. What mattered was to get away from my everyday life. Now I have found a much simpler, unexpected solution. Staying here is even easier.”
So speaks our narrator Lapo, a marine biologist at an Ecosystem Centre in Italy. He wakes up one day in hospital with broken bones after an accident that has also caused him amnesia. When distant memories slowly resurface and the weight of modern life becomes apparent, he realises that having an empty head was not so bad. Lapo clings to his hospital routine to avoid the outside world, including his mother (who is continually pestering him and less than sympathetic!) and his wife Karin, with whom he feels little connection. His work colleagues try to restore his memories and confidence, but he submerges himself into hospital routines, the care of nurses and his fellow patients – great characters with the farting football fan Marshal and young Lorenzo, a video gaming obsessive with whom he gains a new friendship and in a wonderful scene a liking for the game ‘MARIO’! He also writes of the struggles of bodily functions that those who find themselves on crutches will understand completely! There is dark humour with irony in spades.
As the days go by, the pressure for Lapo to return to his ‘normal’ life keep mounting. But as the title of the book tells us Lapo has found time to reset his mind. We could all learn a lot from this short but stunning novel. I’ve been in hospital for a few months after an accident, and it does focus your thoughts on what is really important. There is also the theme of mental illness and the pressure of our lifestyles – clearly identifiable in the wake of Covid. Suddenly we all enjoyed silence, nature and the little things and memories of life not the ever present do this, share this and ignore your real loves in life. Lapo is all of us if we were to stop and think about what is really important.
The thoughtful author is an Italian zoologist so knows his stuff on fish – this will be slowly revealed as the story unfolds for Lapo. Yet there is also a prominent theme of the evolution of man. At one point, Lapo’s wife refers to him as an amoeba and to be honest he takes it as a compliment. His work on fish links the world from primal rivers to laboratories. It also brings him face to face with how he wants to live his life as he recovers both from his broken limbs but also his broken mind.
It is literary but literal. There is an existentialist journey for the inner world of Lapo who has lost the thread of his life and finds it again in nature and its past. We could all read and reflect on our own priorities in life with this gem.
I thank NB books for the opportunity to read this little masterpiece and shall seek out the author with keen interest. He is highly thought of in Italy, writing in several literary magazines. He also brings memories of Italy back to us as readers and as he lives in Tuscany this evokes great reminders of our senses of the sights, smells and tastes of that wonderful country. An incredible personal read and a deep and thoughtful one to consider for book groups.