2011/5 A Simple Story

Leonardo Sciascia, relatively little known outside of Italy, was a cultural figure of no little significance in his home country. A Sicilian, , Sciascia’s work tackles head on Sicilian culture and politics and in particular political corruption and the Mafia. He is most famous for his detective stories, of which ‘A Simple Story’ is his last (published on the day of his death in 1989), but he actually wrote a variety of works, all in some way a harsh commentary on Sicilian and Italian life, and was even for a while an elected member of both the National Assembly and the European Parliament.

A Simple Story is a slim volume that in fact contains two stories. The first, ‘A Simple Story’, is a detective story, following the investigation of the murder of a diplomat. The story is only simple in the sense that it is a short, single-stranded narrative, but in other ways it is far from simple. It is satirical, exposing corruption and the compromising of justice, and it is a political discourse as sharp as any. What is particularly striking is the sheer economy of the writing and how much Sciascia manages to squeeze into a space of just over forty pages. One can see Camilleri lurking in the pages – or rather I can now recognise Sciascia lurking in the pages of Camilleri, not least in the use of satire and humour to ridicule corruption and the politics of the right in general.

The second story in this volume (and the longer of the two) is a short novella entitled ‘Candido’ . As the title suggests, it a homage to Voltaire’s Candide which is openly referenced within the story. Again in the most economic language, Sciascia tells the story of Candido, born in the moments of the defeat of Italy at the hands of the Allied troops in the Second World War. Candido’s blessing and his curse is that he is unable to be anything but honest and candid. And his plain talking, his inability to embellish anything with an exaggeration, his inability to cushion any blow with a white lie, leads him into all sorts of trouble. But, of course, his honesty, for Sciascia, is a satirical device that exposes the corruption and hypocrisies of post-war Italy, where fascist pasts can be conveniently forgotten and political allegiances are matters of convenience rather than conviction. And what Sciascia is really saying is that Candido is ultimately too honest, too innocent, for this world.

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