As you may be able to tell from the name of the series this is a crime series set in Italy, Venice to be exact and I really enjoyed it. It’s a well written police procedural and it managed to avoid all of the traps that I usually encounter in detective fiction. Troubled life of main character, main character having relationship with wrong-doer, huge levels of unnecessary information and the obligatory red herring to name but a few.
Instead we had a solid, capable protagonist, happily married with two happy children and an excellent working relationship with his equally capable team. He investigated his case in a sensible fashion and what’s more is that time moved at what I feel to be a reasonable rate. Instead of everything happening in an intense couple of days resulting in a dramatic showdown where our hero is running on empty having not slept or eaten for 48 hours we had a story that moved along quickly at first and then with nothing for a couple of months. The way I believe investigations work in the real world (not that I have any real experience on that front).
But this post isn’t really about the quality of the book as an example of good crime writing. It’s more about the Italian stereotypes contained therein.
Brunetti and his colleagues represent what some would see as a typical Italian obsession with their stomachs. There were seemingly endless conversations and descriptions of lunch/dinner/snacks/cups and cups of coffee. It all sounded pretty tasty but I found it a little strange that it was such a feature of the book.
I work with quite a few Italians and although it’s certainly true that they love their coffee and their food, they don’t actually talk about it all the time.
Donna Leon is in fact an American although she lived in Venice for 25 years which made me wonder whether this endless listing of foods is because she believes the stereotype, the stereotype is true or she just loves Italian food. According to Wikipedia, the Commissario Brunetti books have been translated into many languages but Leon has requested that they are NOT translated into Italian. Which only serves to redouble my suspicions about her stereotyping.
And it got me to thinking about other stereotypes in literature. A friend was recommending a book to me at the weekend and he described what it’s about and then said ‘But it’s very Russian – lots of potatoes and vodka.’ I believe the book in question was written by a Russian and in my experience, the preference for vodka is true at least 50% of the time (that’s on a sample of 2…).
I thought of Fleur’s vanity and condescension in the Harry Potter series but then I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be a French thing or a Veela thing so I’m not commenting on that but it’s open for discussion if you have any thoughts.
I can’t really think of any more examples right now. There is a book I read at school which was set in Ireland and featured a lot of potatoes but it was mostly about the ghosts of some children who died during the potato famine so I don’t think I can count that one.
I’d be really interested to hear about your views, have you come across stereotypes in the books you’ve read and what were they? I’m always interested to hear what stereotypes abound in other countries as well – I’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face when we informed him that this is the typical English view of the French: