Reading Reports

Gabriele Di Fronzo
The Great Animal

Report by Andrea Tarabbia

(Saronno, 1978), is a writer. He received a Ph.D. in Theory of Literature from the University of Bergamo – where he kept on working for some years as a researcher...

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The book
Francesco Colloneve, the protagonist and narrator of the book, is a taxidermist. He preserves small and medium-sized animals in a workshop which – at the beginning of the story – he has to leave temporarily to go and look after his sick father. While he continues his work in a makeshift studio in his father’s house, he keeps the old man company; among his other problems, his father has almost completely lost his memory. Father and son try to remember episodes from their life together, as the taxidermy work continues and progresses, and could be said to be keeping pace with the father’s illness. When his father dies, Francesco does not go home, but empties the apartment, disinfects it and seals it off – as if the place where his father lived were a final, enormous animal to be to be preserved, making their relationship last forever.

Francesco is a solitary man, dedicated to his work “which deals with the living part of dead things”; meanwhile his father, whose name we are not told, is shown at a time when his body and his mind are disintegrating into sores and minor obsessions. But from the mid-point of the book onwards, the outlines of their relationship become increasingly blurred: Il grande animale is not merely a story of care, but also the evocation of a complex relationship made of violence and incomprehension.

Language and style
Here lies perhaps the greatest merit of the novel, which is divided into 125 brief chapters, in turn made up of fragments of narrative. Il grande animale is split between the story of caring for a relative and an account – at times almost in essay form – of the practice of taxidermy and the techniques and products Francesco uses in his work, described in a language which is often technical and which makes the narrative extremely interesting. The two strands – Francesco’s relationship with his father and his relationship with dead animals – advance in parallel, coming together not only at the end of the book but also at certain points where Francesco reflects on the significance of his work and the meaning of life, death and emptiness.

In my view
An account of a struggle undertaken by someone who, by his trade, is on good terms with death, in terms of ideas and language, Il grande animale is one of the most original novels published in Italy over the past year. It is a debut work, and a debut is a search for a voice: Di Fronzo’s voice is mature and resolute. He seeks precision and seriousness where others would be won over by morbidity. No word is redundant, and it never falls into rhetoric although the topic would lend itself: the narrator is terse, almost cold, as if he appraises the situations that present themselves with the same competence he brings to the corpses of the animals he preserves. There are two reasons for reading this book: to find out how the relationship between father and son plays out, and to find the descriptions of the moments when Francesco delicately and skilfully handles the animals’ bodies. There’s a lot of literature in these descriptions.

Why translate it
Di Fronzo has taken a “classic” topic and developed it in an original way, mixing genres and creating a work which is quick to read, not only because of its length, but also for the construction of the plot and the curiosity the protagonist arouses in the reader. Di Fronzo is undoubtedly one of the outstanding names among recent debut authors: the most promising in terms of language, awareness and ability to construct a plot. Il grande animale is winner of the Premio Volponi opera prima, one of Italy’s most prestigious prizes for a debut work.

What they say
“The story of a vocation, the parable of an individual who puts everything he has into achieving an aim as ridiculous as it is grandiose: the triumph of care (…) over death”.
Marco Peano, L’Indice


Gabriele Di Fronzo was born in Turin in 1984. Il grande animale is his first book.
24 January 2017
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