A Violent Life
by Pier Paolo Pasolini; translated by William Weaver (Carcanet: $18.50, hardcover; $7.50, paperback; 320 pp.)
No less a literary authority than Alberto Moravia claimed that modern Italian literature might have lost its greatest talent when Pier Paolo Pasolini, already a respected poet, essayist, novelist, turned from prose to films. The evidence in this novel indicates that the gain by films was much greater than the loss to literature.
This novel about pimps, petty thieves, desultory gangs is acted against a backdrop of poverty and political turbulence between fascists and communists. Perhaps in an attempt to suggest the sensation its publication created in 1958 in Italy, its highly regarded translator has unwisely chosen to "update" only certain elements of its language. Modern-day expletives clash with archaic references like "old crocks." The dialogue evokes subtitles: "Pretty deluxe around here, eh?" comments one of the young "wise guys." The effect might be similar if James Farrell's novels were published as if written today.
Nothing is more distant in modern times than the near-past, so quickly swept away by daily graphic media accounts of violence and sexuality. Pasolini's novel is therefore depleted of its intrinsic power, which would have survived if left to represent its own time.