Tomasi Di Lampedusa
Vintage, London 2007
The Leopard delves into the psyche of a mid-nineteenth century Italian patriarch. Very soon we get the waft of decay, from the stagnating Italian sun down into the state of disrepair allowed to fester on his late cousin’s household. Everything becomes symbolic in a world in transition. The Prince is not reluctant to, nor is he ambivalent about change, he is rather resigned and accepting; he is however, by his very essence behind and not his opinions. We are led through a story which hinges intimately upon the psychology of a nation in the process of being born and of the many individuals who must now turn with the tide to make up this world in spite of their own reluctance.
Spanning over a number of decades we churn through political revolutions, social intrigues and the machinations of a dusty countryside; lingering half between ignorant poverty and opulent tradition. Popes and Kings come and go, and yet the Prince remains a constant. He is an ever flowing organism tied to everyone and everything by which he is surrounded through the threads of possession; be it financial, loyal or spiritual.
Death of Prince, when it does finally come, is not so much a transferral of power into the hands of a younger generation, but more so of a gentle decline into another form. Sons are left behind and a nephew gets old, yet perhaps it is they who are caught more so upon the precipice of change. The Prince becomes a man of his times and the others can do nothing else but follow.
It is this seemingly endless ebb of history and tradition which makes The Leopard such a sumptuous piece of writing to read. The narrator ploughs us seamlessly through the dust and all we can do is wait in anticipation for events which never come, and yet are all the more thrilling for it. The style reads as though from another époque and not simply another era. There is a sense of fantasy in the pervading stamp of omniscient perspective. Though firmly rooted in the nineteenth century we feel as though we could be reading of an Italy before science and even before culture; The Leopard’s is a land that has been burnt by an unflinching sun for over a millennia.