THE MATTER OF SCOTLAND AND WHY SCOTLAND MATTERS

Twenty years ago, I spent some time in Scotland on a scholarship as a doctoral student at the University of Stirling (though I eventually moved to Glasgow). I have kept since then an interest in Scottish Literature (you’ve read here about my beloved Iain M. Banks), and, intermittently, in the matter of Scottish independence. I actually consider the comparison between Scottish and Catalan nationalism one of my research areas, though a very minor one. I have published some pieces, which you can find in my website. Now I’m waiting for the end of 2014… to go on.

The thesis I have been arguing is that Scotland and Catalonia are vastly different but share, nonetheless, major traits: a dislike for political violence (unlike Ireland and the Basque Country nationalisms, at least until recently) and a strong civil society used to achieving goals through dialogue and compromise. Roughly speaking, as regards recent historical times, the Scots learned very much throughout the 1980s from Catalan ‘autonomia’ about how to proceed in their quest for Devolution. When this came, courtesy of Labour’s Tony Blair, in 1996, the SNP vowed to stage a referendum for independence in 15 years time. 2011 did not bring the referendum itself, but it did bring the election as Scottish PM of SNP’s Alex Salmond. He fulfilled his electoral promise and the Scots will have a completely legal referendum on September 18 as we, Catalans, look on with envy.

Let me explain this envy, on very personal grounds. Yesterday I watched on TV3 the documentary ‘Homage to Scotland’, which I found tedious, predictable and conventional. I keep however, from it, two moments: one, the information about the White Book by the Scottish Government on the future of Scotland if the vote for independence wins (the .mobi file is already in my Kindle – where’s the Catalan White Book, I wonder?). Two: David Cameron’s campaign meeting, asking the rest of Britons to call their friends and relatives in Scotland to convince them to stay… because they love them. I know this is manipulative sentimentalism of the worst kind but, still, it’s nice when you’re asked by a friendly voice not to leave… because you’re loved.

I’m not going to raise here the spectre of Catalanophobia so often invoked. I had a very long talk with my ex-student Samuel yesterday and I’ll borrow his thesis that what marks the relationship between Spain and Catalonia is not hatred but indifference towards the other’s reality. The way I see it, a major flaw of the Spanish state is its failure to instil pride in the cultural diversity of Spain because of its indifference towards variety. In a state proud of this amazing bounty, all children would be taught in school a smattering of the other languages of Spain –and the Spanish ‘Presidente’ would speak them reasonably (well, I don’t know about Basque!). Instead, I have always felt that monolingual Spain sees the other cultures as either local eccentricities or irksome obstacles in the smooth path towards linguistic and cultural uniformity.

Spanish TV, for instance, has local regional branches in the ‘other’ languages, but it never shows a complete programme in Catalan, Galician or Basque on its national channel. You may spend your whole life in Spain and never hear someone speak the other languages on national TV for more than a minute or two. This, for me (remember I’m a philologist), is not reasonable. I know that the linguistic argument does not apply to Scotland, which is why I have always maintained that theirs is a completely different case. And, actually, what is absolutely misunderstood mainly by the Spanish nationalists and to a great extend by the Catalan nationalists is the bilingual, bicultural reality of most people in Catalonia. I’m happy to have had access from childhood to two languages and two cultures (no, I don’t vote Ciutadans). Catalan must be protected by both the Catalan and the Spanish governments, for it is in danger of disappearing. At the same time, I know from the children in my family that an education in Catalan is no obstacle for active bilingualism.

I really think that Rajoy could take lessons from David Cameron. How can he not see that every time he says ‘no’ to Artur Mas’s 9th November referendum independentism grows at least 1%? Will he turn out to be a bigger independentist, in the end, than Oriol Junqueras (by the way, a UAB colleague from the History Department…)? In Scotland many claim that their wish for independence is mainly due to Maggie Thatcher 1980s anti-Scottish policies. Just think of Rajoy calling Mas to say “don’t go, we love you” (or even better, “no marxeu, us estimem”… or the equivalent in his native Galician), and you’ll quickly understand what’s missing here –call it political hypocrisy, or genuine affection, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that, at least, there’s some kind of dialogue between Cameron and Salmond.

Insert here a deep bilingual (or trilingual) sigh…

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REVIEWING (FOR FREE): CONSIDERATIONS ON FREE TIME AND SOCIAL NETWORKING

I remember asking a few years ago a well-published Spanish writer –I was going to say ‘professional’ but she actually works as a lecturer– whether she ran a blog of her own. Elia Barceló, that was the author in question, answered she’d rather not write without getting paid (though I see she relented, at least for a while).

I often think of her words. When I wonder whether what I do by writing this blog is professional or personal (both, I think) and when I wonder how much spare time people have, seeing they offer countless reviews online… for free. I keep this blog, to be honest, for reasons of mental hygiene –I’m not enrolled in any gym (I did practice yoga for four years but this seems to be over), yet I have turned out to be quite disciplined when it comes to forcing my neurones to take periodical exercise. Every four days ideally, at least once a week. Um, sounds like something else!!

Writing is always a pleasure but, as happens with any kind of sport, it is also a chore. I recall my Spanish Literature teacher in the last year at secondary school, the wonderful and demanding Sara Freijido, claiming that intellectual work is also physically tiring, something that for me, a blue-collar worker’s daughter, was short of anathema… (imagine for my father!) So, like people who run marathons, I love writing but I have to force myself to do it. In a way the blog also exists to discipline me into curbing down the temptation to procrastinate (I find that I write faster but it still takes me forever to start academic articles). I recommend it…

All this comes from two main nagging ideas. One is my students’ class presentations and comments on fan fiction; the other is my having read a very good review on Amazon.com (of Richard Morgan’s SF novel Altered Carbon). Both ideas share this basic wonder or curiosity: how come people use their spare time for writing and for reviewing… just for the sake of it?

Possibly, this is because I don’t understand very well the idea of free time. My main hobby has always been reading and, thus, whenever I have free time you’ll find me with a book in my hands –which often becomes part of my professional pursuits. I use my ‘real’ free time for other matters such as seeing friends, going to exhibitions, theatre, concerts, etc… Yet, I don’t do activities in my spare time that result in ‘products’, from, I don’t know, a dress to… fan fiction or a review (this is why I think the blog is work, not leisure). It baffles me absolutely when I see people ‘produce’ something in their spare time, from muffins to… fan fiction or a review. It’s so… Victorian!!

I read very often IMDB and Amazon reviews written by people with time in their hands and a wish to enlighten the world. I keep a list of films watched on IMDB, and in this way I force myself to go through the titles I have seen more or less every month. It’s good to fix their imprint or lack thereof in my memory. IMDB offers the possibility of rating each film and also of writing reviews –I rate all the films I see but I never write reviews, particularly when I see hundreds of people have already contributed. If I write at all, it’s only about very little known Spanish and Catalan films that deserve much more attention (or documentaries). I must have written about 6 reviews in total, out of a list recording more than 3,000 films watched.

I find that reviews should be limited to a couple of paragraphs, as people tend to write overlong pieces –yet, this ads to my bafflement about why they use so much energy in reviewing. Is it a didactic instinct or is it narcissism? I know that there are lists of ‘top reviewers’, people who have written literally hundreds of reviews, or more… Same with Amazon. Whenever I read a book, I check the most valuable negative review (I never find the most positive ones really trustworthy) and I marvel at how widespread the ability to offer good criticism is. Reviewing is a very hard exercise and when I read a good piece over 500 words long I know that the author has possibly employed a couple of hours of his/her time for my benefit and anyone else’s. That’s, well, very nice.

I wonder what’s happened to professional critics since the mid 1990s when everyone started publishing opinions online. I’m well aware that may have managed to retain their authority since cultural consumers still make a distinction between the professional with a unique individual voice, and the amateur on the social network –who remembers their names? I’m also well aware that the reviewing realms I visit are heavily biased: to begin with, they’re in English; second, there’s always the suspicion that the enthusiastic reviewers that push totally forgettable books and films to the heights of hype are on someone’s payroll. Still, they’re there, making and breaking reputations.

Perhaps this works not so much because we want guidance, or sharing opinion, but because we’re lazy. I had already read Altered Carbon years ago and dismissed it to the point that I gave the copy away. A variety of circumstances led me to think I had undervalued, perhaps, this novel, so I returned to it. Once I decided I wasn’t going to include it in the course on SF I’m planning for 2015-16, I just got too lazy to think it through and pin down the reasons for my dislike. So, I checked that Amazon review and, well, that guy got it so right… His effort freed me to employ my neurones in writing this post. Some irony there.

One thing I can tell for sure: hardly any film with less than a 7 on IMDB is worth watching… This would be 3’5 stars for books on Amazon. And in a world with so much to read and see this is very valuable information. Isn’t it wonderful that this comes out of so many people, so much free time?

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ADDICTIVE AND WONDERFUL: THE EXPERIENCE OF READING THE HARRY POTTER SERIES

As I explained two posts ago, I have been very busy editing a collective volume which gathers together my students’ essays on their experience of reading the Harry Potter series: it’s called Addictive and Wonderful. The .pdf file of the volume (132 pages!!) is now available online, from the UAB’s repository, at https://ddd.uab.cat/record/118225. I am now in the process of publicising it among anyone who will listen and I’ll ask you, please, to help me. I’m neither on Facebook nor on Twitter… Thanks.

As I explain in the ‘Preface’, I gathered together the essays thinking of writing an article which would contradict Harold Bloom’s famous attack in The Wall Street Journal (November 2000). This is a review of the first volume in the series in which he called Rowling’s young readers ‘non-readers’ and in which he basically came to the snobbish conclusion that ‘oh, well, at least turning pages is better than using screens.’ The 56 persons who have contributed to the volume (mostly BA students in my class, but also some MA students who showed an interest, my colleague Bela Clúa and myself), offer quite a different impression of the process of reading the series. Most, whether they were already readers or not, make the claim that reading Harry Potter confirmed their passion for reading –indeed beyond the series, and into the university.

The volume contributors were asked to write personal, informal essays (not academic) about their experience. I provided them with my own essay as a sample, which was written very much in the same chatty but earnest tone I use here. Logically, since I started reading Rowling’s series at 38, my experience had to be different from theirs. Where I am flippant, they’re candid, where I try to conceal my overreactions, they show pure emotion. After all, they’re dealing with their own childhood. I must confess that some of the essays brought tears to my eyes, as the authors described difficult childhoods, marred by abandonment or divorce, and how they found comfort in reading Harry Potter. You will see, however, very easily why other essays moved me to tears for more positive reasons: for the happiness, enjoyment, pleasure the good memories transmit (often shared with mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins, aunts, friends…)

I invited my students to present orally to their classmates what they’d written and the three sessions we’ve used confirmed an unexpected find: the experience is quite homogeneous despite the cultural (and personal) differences. Students from Canada, Bulgaria, China, the United States and the United Kingdom narrated essentially the same process as my own Catalan and Spanish students (I make the distinction here because the language of their original contact with the series did matter). Many teachers of English Studies might be surprised to learn that impatience to know how the characters would fare led many of our students to attempt to read the books in English quite young (around 13), whether they were ready or not. They not only grew up with Harry, but learnt English with him. And here they are, reading more Literature in English with us.

Many aspects of the essays and of the situation I have stumbled into surprise me very much: as I write in the ‘Preface’ I have quite accidentally become a catalyser for an experience which, I think, is shared by many, many more students than we might think. I’ve had students bringing friends to class, another came from the Universitat de Barcelona last week as soon as I told him about my subject. Next week I’ll be publicising the online volume in my school, we’ll see what happens… I know that many are not only indifferent but also disdainful (not really hostile), but I myself have learnt plenty about my own approach to reading, and this is what matters in the end.

The email messages I have got from my colleagues mostly congratulate me on the initiative of working with the students (sorry, I feel very smug today!!). What I need to say here is that I firmly believe that the work I’ve carried out has application beyond the specific topic that occupies me. The good contacts with the staff that runs the DDD (the repository) at UAB are allowing me to self-publish not only my own academic work (strictly speaking, as this volume is also academic work) but also to test out new ideas as regards my teaching. In July I hope to publish a second volume on Harry Potter, this time with the best papers by the students. And next year, when I teach ‘Gender Studies’ I’ll publish a volume with the students’ own view of how gender issues affect them today. As a teacher told me, Addictive and Wonderful had allowed her to get an insight into who the students are and I think we need to learn that – at least as an ageing teacher, I need to find a way to learn who these young people are!

Send me comments or email me, please, if you happen to enjoy Addictive and Wonderful, as I hope you will. As I have. I must confess that when I finished the volume I burst out crying – I could only explain to my sympathetic husband that I was already nostalgic of a teaching experience I may never have again, not with the same emotional intensity. As we agreed in class, neither Literary Theory nor Literary Studies have quite managed to deal with emotion (not even in reader-response theory). Much less with our very deep need for the people whom we meet in the pages of the books we love best.

Harold Bloom and company… really…

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CONCHITA WURST, THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST AND A BEARD: A VINDICATION OF THE WORD ‘PERSON’

For the last three years I have been watching the Eurovision Song Contest with two of my nieces. I think I grew nostalgic of the great fun that watching the show was for me as a little girl, hence the idea to share this with the girls, now 9 and 5. This year the experience has turned into a magnificent lesson in Gender Studies, which is why I’m writing this post. As a researcher, not just an aunt 😉

As you, my reader, possibly know by now the winner turned out to be Austrian singer Conchita Wurst and her atmospheric song “Rise like a Phoenix”. My eldest niece is quite alert to gender matters and highly sensitised against homophobia because of the presence of gay relatives and friends in her life. So I explained to her that both Russia and Belarus had demanded that Conchita’s performance be censored for she happens to be… a lady sporting a beard. The homophobes all over Europe were horrified by her ambiguous looks and, I read on Friday, the Austrians had decided to support their representative by sporting fake bears (or natural ones the men) throughout the show. This is why before the show started, the girls and I built ourselves very nice beards (cut out from paper and painted with coloured pencils, then stuck to drinking straws, in the style of elegant carnival masks).

I loved best the lovely Dutch song and actually voted Conchita’s second best in our own private family vote. My nieces were all for Iceland’s Pollapönk, a band made up of four primary school teachers who charmed the girls with their colourful suits and lively performance. To my pleasure, the lyrics to their song “No prejudice” include the following refrain: “Let’s do away with prejudice/ don’t discriminate, tolerance is bliss/ we got to get together on this/ cross this problem off our list.” My nieces found Conchita charming, we donned our beards as she sang (they made a paper wig for my husband!) and we were all generally happy that the Austrian representative won a very clear victory. It was a big night for Europe, a night in which prejudice was erased, if only a little bit. It all counts.

The following morning, I made a mistake: I Googled Conchita. I had initially decided not to worry about whether Conchita was the classic freak-show bearded lady in post-modern version, or a drag queen but curiosity bested me. Conchita is Tom Neuwirth and, if you ask me, he looks very nice as Tom though far less intriguing than Conchita. I asked my nieces whether they wanted to see Conchita with no make up and no beard and very wisely the youngest said no way. The eldest said yes, why not?… and got monumentally annoyed when she found out that Conchita, after all, was no freakish-looking lady but a guy. I tried to explain the concept ‘drag queen’ to her but she only got even more annoyed. She felt cheated.

So, here I was, the Gender Studies specialist, celebrating charming Conchita’s triumph and considering whether this was the beginning of a new view of gender, with the word ‘person’ taking over, instead of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. And there goes my niece to bring me back down to Earth. For her, sticking up to a woman, no matter in which shape, was fine; defending a man impersonating a woman, bearded or not, not so fine. How naïve of me to think we were moving forward.

Of course, she could not articulate the reasons for her dislike of Tom Neuwirth and I feel guilty for having kept up the fantasy that Conchita might be a girl. To add to this, my mother suggested that Conchita had won because of the morbid interest of audiences on her/his body, an idea which I tried to reject on the grounds of her exceptional voice –but which kept resurfacing as Sunday moved on. Today, Monday, I have decided to write this post but not touch Google again. We’ll see how Conchita progresses or not.

To be honest, let me acknowledge that I don’t sympathise much with male to female transvestites, as they impersonate a type of femininity that only exists in patriarchal fantasies. Sorry. What I like about Conchita is how the beard contradicts this stereotyped view of femininity. I had not classed her with the drag queens actually because they tend to be quite flamboyant and Conchita’s style is more muted. I thought that the beard was a very clever comment on both transvestism and the whole drag queen phenomenon though I may have been duped by the facial hair into, as my niece saw, supporting a guy. Once more.

Let me go back, anyway, to that sweet moment when Conchita took the statuette that goes with the award and I saw on the screen a person, neither man nor woman, for it was an absolutely liberating moment. I have no idea about what Tom Neuwirth meant, maybe he just wanted his 15 minutes of fame, but I just wish there were more Conchitas around –and now I mention this, more men in skirts like the wonderful dancers accompanying the Irish singer. What a pity she didn’t make it to the final…

All in all, I’m still very happy that the homophobes of Europe failed so utterly… Putin, eat this!!

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A VINDICATION OF AUNTS… (READING THE HARRY POTTER SERIES)

I have been VERY busy finishing the edition of a collective volume which gathers together my students’ essays on their experience of reading the Harry Potter series. This volume is called Addictive and Wonderful, a phrase borrowed from the essay in it by Marta Canals, and will hopefully be available on the internet soon. I’m publishing it on the UAB’s repository as part of my personal campaign to vindicate the free dissemination of academic work, or, rather, of knowledge.

The volume runs to about 72,000 words, a full book. I decided, though, NOT to contact any publisher. I don’t think this is a product to be welcome by a commercial or academic publishing house, I shudder just to think of the mess involved in asking Ms. Rowling and Warner Bros. for permission to publish anything on Harry Potter for profit, and I simply want publication to happen as I still teach the Harry Potter elective. My students are currently presenting to their classmates what they wrote for my benefit, and their reward will be the online publication. My own reward is how beautiful the volume is, trust me…

I’ll say more about the collection when the volume is out. In the meantime, let me focus on a curious point in my students’ memoirs about Harry Potter: the role of aunts. Though most of the 56 essays mention parents, to my surprise a very nice total of 14 mention aunts. Only 3 mention uncles… and very differently. I am an aunt myself, meaning that though childless and not particularly fond of children, I’m finding great personal fulfilment in the role (see the following post…). My four nieces are readers (not my nephew…) and it is for me particularly rewarding to choose books for them. I’m actually waiting for the eldest to be 11 to buy her the first Harry Potter book. After reading what my students have to say about aunts, I wonder whether I can still wait for 18 more months…

In Addictive and Wonderful, aunts are seen to do their ‘duty’ by their nieces and nephews and buy Harry Potter books for their birthdays and Christmas, sometimes following the children’s suggestions but also because they know Harry and seek to please them. In one case, a boy who was abandoned by his father with his great-uncle and aunt, whom he calls the Dursleys, is amazed when Aunt Dursley buys him a Harry Potter book –for that is the only real present he ever got from her (apart from socks…). In another touching case, the aunt is only a few years older than the niece and the first Harry Potter book is also the first present she gives the little girl. For the little girl, in her turn, this is the first ‘real’ book she gets. Other aunts, described as ‘avid readers’ keep an eye on what might interest their nieces and nephews and inform the parents, usually the mother. In some cases, it’s the other way round: aunts buy what parents suggest.

Four of the seven aunts described as ‘avid readers’ not only buy some of the books or take the children to see some of the movies: they share the whole experience, also ‘avidly’. A girl explains how her aunt got so interested in the books that she decided to learn enough English to read them in the original version; the girl followed her in this, borrowing the volumes from her aunt. A second girl is fortunate enough to share not only the books but the eight films as well with her aunt. Another girl names her aunt as an example of a person of a different generation also interested in the series. As proof that Harry Potter actually interested three generations, a fourth girl mentions a paternal aunt, who bought her niece the books on condition that she could borrow them!

Uncles, in contrast, are far less visible. A boy explains that his uncle and aunt, his godparents actually, gave him the first book as a Christmas present. The second uncle mentioned is employed at a printing press, and he simply gives his niece a pile of books, among which the first Harry Potter. The third uncle is mentioned but for exactly the opposite reasons why the aunts are mentioned. A girl recalls how her uncle upset her by declaring: “You’re wasting your time. You don’t really think you will be interested in Harry Potter in a few years, do you? By the time the last movie comes out you will be around 18. You will have long forgotten about it.” Contradicting her short-sighted uncle, she writes: “But I think that is exactly the reason why I feel so attached to the saga. I grew up with it.” A view most students subscribe.

Only 14 of the 56 essays are by young men, as this happens to be the ratio of men to women in class (actually I invited 2 students not registered in the course to submit essays). It is then quite logical that I have referred here mainly to essays by girls. The fact is that aunts are mostly mentioned by girls (boys very often mention mothers), and it might well be that we, aunts, manage better to form steadier relationship with nieces than with nephews. Part of that relationship consists, it seems, of making books available and even sharing them with our nieces. At least, I haven’t come across an example of an aunt sharing Harry Potter with her nephew, though the sample surveyed might not be extensive enough. Alternatively, boys who have reading mothers seem not to require reading aunts, whereas girls are happier to get as many reading females in the family as they can.

Ironically, though the supply of nice aunts seems to be quite satisfactory, the demand for nice uncles is by no means covered. A girl writes about Sirius Black, my own favourite character in the Harry Potter series and seemingly everyone else’s (apart from Hermione for the girls) that Sirius was “the uncle I always wanted.” Absolutely!! In the saga Sirius buys Harry a spectacular flying broom for Quidditch, but I can very well see him giving Harry… the first Harry Potter book and sharing the whole experience with him. The uncle I always wanted, indeed.

Professor Freud, poor thing, had no idea really…

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A (CONFUSED) WORD ABOUT NON-FICTION (AND ROBERTO SAVIANO’S ZEROZEROZERO)

Almost exactly two years ago I published a post titled “The other books: The problem of non-fiction”. I started by worrying about whether it is really true that as readers age the novel loses its charm and the other prose books gain ground in our preferences as readers. As I approach my 48th birthday I can very well say that this is the case, although novels still play in my reading habit a role that no other prose book can fulfil. Having said that, I know already, and it is only May, that I won’t read this year a better book than Roberto Saviano’s ZeroZeroZero, which begs many questions about what the best books are today (and what we mean by that).

To begin with, it’s hard to say to which genre ZeroZeroZero belongs. Saviano is a journalist and what he offers here is a report based on his (life-threatening) research. Yet, the chapter organization, the personal considerations and the often literary prose suggest that the aim is not just transmitting a certain type of information and a thesis (that cocaine plays a much bigger role in the world’s economy than we suspect). The aim is demonstrating that thesis, of course, but Saviano chose to do so in a way that also tickles the reading centres of our brain.

As I read I was, however, a bit confused about what I was supposed to feel, for my reactions veered from total horror at the violence Saviano narrates to admiration at the intelligent way he handles the telling of the tale. His previous book, Gomorra (2006), which I also admired very much, produces a similar effect: as a reader I don’t know what is the main key to the text –what it tells, how the author tells it or that Saviano has risked his life and lives under escort since then for his readers. I was going to claim that I ‘enjoyed’ Gomorra, but perhaps this is the key to my problem: it seems quite callous to enjoy Saviano’s books and perhaps I should stay with ‘admire’ as the most fitting verb.

Saviano answers towards the end of his book the question every reader is asking him mentally: why risk your life, and enrage the gangsters that run the world? He explains that his aim is telling the truth and that he will have been successful in his task if, after reading his book the reader feels that the world is a different place from what it was before opening the book covers. I do feel that and I thank Saviano for opining my eyes but, and this is a problem shared by Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, I wonder whether these heroes really get their admirers to go beyond that admiration. Here I am saying that ZeroZeroZero is a great book, which is as absurd as praising Wikileaks for the quality of the prose in their communications. Perhaps, I am just wondering, this is Saviano’s fault for choosing to write a beautifully written volume instead of a dry report (I did miss, if you ask me a dramatis personae list as I couldn’t retain the many gangsters’ names he mentions, and I would have been grateful for an appendix with a map of the main cocaine transport lines).

Also in the last chapters Saviano considers for a moment whether he would have saved himself much trouble by writing ZeroZeroZero as a novel. In his way, he could have used false names for the gangsters and protect himself from their wrath. Actually non-fiction very often uses a hybrid form that he could have used, with frequent dramatisation of key scenes in the style of novels including dialogue that may or not have happened as it reproduced. Saviano’s book is full of memorable, terrifying scenes and it’s easy to imagine a soon-to-come film version based on them, as happened with Gomorra (made into a film in 2008). Yet, he uses mainly reporting prose to tell these stories, making it clear that his territory is not that of the novel, not even of the novelised non-fiction book in the style of Capote’s pioneering In Cold Blood.

I don’t take cocaine and never have, which is why in a way I can easily disconnect from Saviano’s whistle blowing –I find people who choose to destroy their precious neurons as deserving of their sad fate as people who choose to drink or smoke themselves to death. I know I sound smug but all addictions are initially a matter of choice. What I really appreciate in Saviano’s books (and I know that here I’m writing like a bad student, introducing new ideas in what should be my conclusion) is his relentless portrayal of patriarchal masculinity.

Reading about the lives of gangsters in Gomorra and of the cocaine lords in ZeroZeroZero, men always destined to be eliminated by their competitors often in very cruel ways or to serve long jail sentences, one wonders what the attraction can be. Unlike the public gangsters we all have in mind, I mean the corrupt politicians who live la vida loca without hiding at all, Saviano’s villains get, as the proverb about he wicked goes, no rest. He does explain in both books the simple truth: any disempowered man (and a tiny handful of women) given the chance to enjoy absolute power in his circle even at the risk of losing it all quickly will go for that, take his chance and hope it lasts.

Every time you snort white powder up your nose think of how you’re upholding the most sinister version of patriarchy. I’m sure few think of that…

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