BookBlast review of debut novel Thirsty Sea by Italian singer-songwriter Erica Mou (trs. Clarissa Botsford). Erica wrote this book at the kitchen table of her rented accommodation in London.
The image maybe be near-perfect but what lies behind it? Inside a person is like inside the sea: all that lies beneath the surface is not immediately visible.
Nicola is an aeroplane pilot, a very good cook and the ideal son-in-law. He is “the kind of person who doesn’t kill spiders but catches them in jars and frees them out of the window”. He is a perfect catch for Maria who runs an oddball eco-friendly business. As a gift-buying consultant, she is paid by clients to come up with ideas for presents. So her shop is just a big empty space with a table, a chair and a phallic sculpture in the corner reminiscent of Rocking Machine, the art piece created by Dutch sculptor and artist Herman Makkink for Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange. There is “nothing on sale, no shelves, just brilliant ideas.”
“When I met Ruth, with her long hair and ears full of piercings I started to feel that it would have been nice to have had as sister, and that I didn’t want to go home.” It’s when Maria is in London staying in a hostel and studying that the idea for her start up is born – thanks to Ruth. Gift-giving does not only inspire positivity in us and others, it sends a message to the brain to release oxytocin which boosts your mood. Luckily Maria has the knack for getting it right, wrapping up a gift with love and a pretty bow, for a variety of clients who have little time and even less imagination.
While her mother is placid (some would say avoidant), Maria is sensitive, fragile, and writes that “my father is like a stone, my mother washes around him”. Decades earlier, when she was just seven, her sister had died while playing. “It wasn’t your fault” may be the family mantra before the shutters of grief descend on the family home, and her father, a sports and culture journalist for the local paper in Bari, takes to the sofa to watch film after film after film. But deep down inside, Maria tells herself that she had killed her adorable little sister, Summer.
Wrestling with grief and love and the shared uncertainty of our human existence, Erica Mou’s “less is more” approach to writing enables her to find the right balance of emotion. Ultimately will Maria agree to marry and settle for a humdrum life, or free spirit that she is, will she fly away?
I clasp you with nettle hands, my spirit
And squeeze and squeeze.”
Minimalist, punchy verses reminiscent of haikus or the stanza of a song are scattered throughout strategic points of the text.
Come and see
Guess the context.”
The writing is precise and concise, luminous with poetry and musicality. Erica Mou clearly loves language. Each word of her sentences is weighed and measured and deftly translated by Clarissa Botsford. I read Thirsty Sea in one sitting.
Elena Ferrante’s phenomenal success in recent years has paved the way for other contemporary Italian women writers to be made available in English. A fresh young talent now made available to the English-speaking world, Erica Mou is one to watch.
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