My reviewrating: 3 of 5 stars
This is, first and foremost, a beautifully written story. What Dickens achieves by his wonderful descriptions of the grim, dilapidation of an over-crowded and underfed Victorian London, Lampedusa attains by invoking the sun-drenched hills of Sicily. But whereas Dickens excels at setting his scenes visually, Lampadusa works all the senses, using touch, taste and smell, especially smell, to conjure up incredibly powerful and sensual scenes. The consumption of a macaroni pie around an evening's formal dinner table, for example, becomes the vehicle for revealing the interior world, social status, emotional desire, and even the sexual appetite of his characters: "Tancredi, in an attempt to link gallantry with greed, tried to imagine himself tasting, in the aromatic forkfuls, the kisses of his neighbour Angelica, but he realized at once that the experiment was disgusting and suspended it, with a mental reserve about reviving this fantasy with the pudding." Lampadusa has produced a tidy story, expressed in exceptionally accomplished prose, of a noble Sicilian family in decline, left behind on history's dust-heap as it were. But beyond the scented scenes and crinolined coquettes, there is little but nostalgia and an undercurrent of bitterness (the scent of defecation and the sour taste of vomit recur throughout) to take away. Depth comes from the author's supreme unease with modernity itself, with the ill-mannered, the uncultured, with foreigners, and even with the concept of a united Italy, dominated, of course, by Northerners. 'The Leopard' is evocative to be sure and quite enjoyable, but lacks a certain gravitas to merit 'great book' status.
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