Return to Valetto by Dominic Smith

Return to Valletto
Dominic Smith, Allen & Unwin, $32.99

Valletto, the setting of Dominic Smith’s latest novel, is a (completely fictional) town in Umbria. It is entirely fitting that he invented it, as it is a mock-up of many real towns and villages in Italy that look more like ghosts or fiction, hollowed out by poverty, earthquakes, immigration, leaving only crumbling dioramas with some aging residents It is the last barrier against total abandonment.

In Valetto, there are a handful of only 10 strong men, four of whom are the three aunts and grandmother of the central character Hugh. He was an American scholar whose mother, the fourth sister, had run away from home for reasons that later became apparent. He is a historian. “I’m good at abandonment,” is how he defines himself, semi-ironically, after writing a bestseller about abandoned towns and villages in Italy, which is why he returned to Valletto, where he spent much of his childhood. summer.

At the heart of Dominic Smith's novels are secrets.

At the heart of Dominic Smith’s novels are secrets. Credit:

He also lost his wife and mother within four years and is far from processing his grief, especially for his wife.So giving up runs through it all, Hugh’s grief is totally believable and felt, There are only occasional dips in sadness: these are made up for by his relationship with his daughter, who gently, teasingly pushes him toward new beginnings.

Hugh has a good diction, a funny eye, so we quickly settle in this dying village, where his family lives in their separate apartment, almost rotting away. It’s not a plot spoiler to say there are secrets at the heart of this book, because even if they’re not in the DNA of a book like this, it says so on the cover. But this is a story that neither has nor needs real narrative tension to achieve its goals.


The initial catalyst for the revelation is a middle-aged woman, Elisa Tomassi, who shows up to Valetto and claims to possess and squat in the villa left to him by Hugh’s mother. She claims that Hugh’s grandfather, Aldo, disappeared in 1944, later showed up in her hometown in Piedmont, joined the guerrillas, and later gave the villa to her family as a thank you for hiding and protecting him. Hints at Hugh’s grandmother and aunt, legal troubles, and even some rather dramatic rage at the graphologist.

At first, it seemed the dispute could go in any direction, unlike the outcome of Hugh and Elisa, whose outcome was already settled from the moment he first set eyes on her. “Elisa lifted her chin and looked up at me with her light brown eyes under the fur fringe of her hood. I stood close enough to see tiny flecks of gold and copper on her irises.” Spots mean only one thing in a book.

She is a talented cook, and food is a prominent trope in the book. In the family history, in Valetto’s history, in Elisa’s life, in their circling with each other, in the resolution of the plot, food plays a role, sometimes an emphasized, ineffable role, as As often happens in books like this. give back Valet Parking Very much like “such a book”, which is exactly what it should be.

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