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Contempt (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 31 Jul 2004
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Rich in substance and resonant with meaning…a rare achievement.
— The New York Times
Moravia remains one of the twentieth century’s smoothest and most entertaining poets of paralysis, of the genial ennui generated by the triumph of materialism over humane values…his novels offer a bracing counterpoint to today’s soft-hearted and -headed fiction.
— Boston Review
About the Author
Alberto Moravia (1907–1990) was one of Italy’s greatest twentieth-century writers. Among his best-known books to have appeared in English are Boredom, The Woman of Rome, The Conformist (the basis for Bernardo Bertolucci’s film), Roman Tales, Contempt (the basis for Jean-Luc Godard’s film), and Two Women.
Tim Parks, a novelist, essayist, and translator, is Associate Professor of Literature and Translation at IULM University in Milan. His books include Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic’s Search for Health and Healing and The Server.
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What a strange and engrossing tale. So normal in appearance. A man starts out thinking he has a noble profession as a critic but poverty has limitations. How hard to admit selling out one for the other. Why not elevate the goal to a higher nobility. Surely I am doing this for my wife Emelia! A screenplay is only for pay so it must be done for Emelia.
Ricccardo Molteni is a narcissist, delusional, selfish, probably a bit insane, obsessive and manic. He is intelligent and thoughtful and brutish, always a chauvinist and given to fits of depression and unnatural euphoria. He is dangerous even to the reader.
As told in the first person it's a neat trick to keep us reading and believing in Molteni. His character gets under your skin. Brilliantly the writer lets this most unreliable narrator carry us through his life. Is he going to write that screenplay to bring Homer's Odyssey to the big screen? Why doesn't his wife love him? Is he dominating her or just being helpful with that menu? What is wrong with her? It must be her fault. If only she'd reveal the root of it so that he can carry on. Denial of his own culpability is everywhere and yet subtly woven into the contradictions between his seemingly sensitive and warm thoughts and his more acute actions out of need to defend his self esteem.
And what about that screenplay? Is Ulysses avoiding his wife Penelope? Is that why it takes 10 long years to return home. Is the Director Reingold somehow mocking him by creating a Ulysses that's weak and fearful of his wife? Is there a similarity in his own life? Maybe but it's wickedly derivative.
"Contempt" is very unsettling and makes for wonderful reading. His thoughts on his own life and marriage are deeply psychological. He gets the reader thinking and doubting. Don't read this if you've just had a misunderstanding with your spouse or significant other.
At first I was irritated by the narrator Ricardo, I doubted his regard for his wife and found it difficult to identify or sympathise with his total self involvement and lack of awareness, no matter how he tried to justify his position.
It is a thought provoking novel, I'll give it that with the second half being more intense and driven then the first. It's difficult because while I can appreciate the skill of the writer, I couldn't, in all honesty say that I liked or identified with the characters.
I did come away feeling that it is in some ways a timeless novel of another tortured soul. Loved the enigmatic ending.
One cannot escape hating love, weeping for Riccardo, doubting if one's love will be corrupted by contempt and sincerity is alone sufficient to offer full protection; vigorously recalculating for any remote possibility of such contempt preying to attack one's love.
This is one of those few books that you feel should not have read it in the first place or ever as it has crept into your pores firmly to crawl everywhere and never leave. Sitting for hours in a bath or a sauna to get rid of the ink from one's skin is futile.