Title: The Book of Hidden Things
Author: Francesco Dimitri
Genre: Magical Realism, Fantasy
As a reader, I try to give all genres of literature a chance. Sometimes I find amazing stories in genres that I’ve never explored before, and sometimes they’ll be books that sound great, but end up disappointing me.
The Book of Hidden Things was one of those novels that really surprised me.
I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I really struggle with magical realism as a genre. I’ve tried with quite a few beloved books and authors who use this genre beautifully (such as Gabriel García Márquez) but I’ve never been able to grasp it.
So, it was kind of a surprise that The Book of Hidden Things fell into my life.
Set in the stark, unforgiving landscape of Southern Italy, The Book of Hidden Things follows the tale of a promise broken and friendships left floundering. Originally thought up by Art – the charismatic leader of the group – a promise is made by four friends to meet up every year in their childhood town of Puglia, no matter what. Years later, these boys, (Fabio, Mauro, and Tony) are now men with careers, partners, and separate lives, but they all congregate in their favourite eatery in Puglia. But Art does not.
A visit to Art’s house reveals a dangerous pastime. Art is growing cannabis and is missing. And in a mafia-led community, this illegal growing is incredibly dangerous.
To find their missing friend, Fabio, Mauro, and Tony have to go into the very underbelly of their town. But along the way, religion, saints and mythology are questioned, and soon the very mortal coil which the men dwell on is doubted upon.
When I was sent this book, the genre given was ‘magical realism’. So when I originally read that, I felt my stomach drop. I thought ‘I’m not going to like this. I won’t be able to fully enjoy it, and it’ll frustrate me.’
However, pushing my qualms aside, I set reading it. And soon found myself engrossed in this world that the author has created.
The main thing that I loved about this story is the description of the landscape. I’ve gone to Italy a few times, but never explored down to the South/’the boot of the country’. But with the heady description that Dimitri offers, I can almost see it and feel the suffocating heat.
One section that really got me was this:
The land surrounding us comes into existence only for the fleeting time our headlights touch it, and it is flat as the sea on one of those tramontana days. Vineyards first, the plants all bent, and then thick olives trees, bent too, and twisted. Things that grow here must make do with very little water and too much sun, as well as wind, hailstones and storms. […] It is a timeless landscape, not in the way I like. It makes me feel very frail.
The descriptions are so rich for describing something so desolate. I really did fall in love with the style of writing.
The novel flicks between the main three protagonists as they deal with their own issues, back stories, and the task at hand – finding Art. There is also another section, but I can’t reveal much as it does spoil quite a lot of the book.
But in the sections of the three men, you find a lot out about them, and you also get to build up a clear picture of Art. They’ve all got their conflicts, and it’s interesting to see them bounce off each other.
My favourite section was Fabio’s, as he is the most descriptive about the countryside he grew up in. The sense of suffocation that you get through his sections almost oozes out of the page, and I love it.
So, why is this novel called magical realism, and how comes I enjoyed it?
Well, the reason being is that it was pretty subtle. The magical realism only comes halfway through and towards the end section, and I think that as a reader you can take it as either ‘magical realism’ or ‘delusional thinking’. When you read the book, what I mean here will become clear.
The novel was very easy to digest and didn’t have all the grandeur and self-awareness that some ‘magical realism’ books have. I can’t stand books that show off because they know they’re ‘good books’.
But if you want a beautiful book that’ll transport you to Italy, read this. You won’t regret it!
The Book of Hidden Things is available from Titan Books on the 3rd July – pre-order now.
Thank you to Titan Books for the ARC.