The Faithful Lover (1953) is a collection of short stories by Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli, the father of realismo magico (magical realism). This genre works as an evolved form of traditional French surrealism. Bontempelli has commented on the writing style by saying,
“the real norm of the art of narration is to describe the dream as if it were reality, and the reality as if it were a dream.”
The stories begin with ordinary people and feel normal enough. Yet as the stories continue, Bontempelli starts twisting the screws until cracks appear in mechanism of reality. He uses this technique with varying degrees. At times the effect is full blown while in other stories it bubbles under the surface. Real life becomes infected with dream qualities, the results are strange and beautiful. For L’mante Fedele (The Faithful Lover), Bontempelli was awarded the “Strega Prize,” Italy’s highest recognition for literature.
The book has a wonderfully mysterious tone. Some stories are cloaked in darkness while other will stand in broad daylight. No matter what setting Bontempelli chooses, his stories never become murky or lose their intended effect. The book itself is short, and thus the stories come at you in quick bursts like flying embers. Immediately the reader is ushered into the story. By the first paragraph, Bontempelli has drawn you into his imagination. All the while, one never gets the feeling of being rushed. Things happen in a plausible manner and so we go along without question. The magic of his writing permeates the mind like a fast acting drug whose affects are wonderful.
Readers that are fans of the magical realism genre are most likely attracted to works by Haruki Murakami and Toni Morrison. Writers such as these present magical realism in very modern way. Bontempelli’s style by comparison does read with a noticeably older prose. I personally tend to avoid works that sound outdated. The Faithful Lover reads a little “old school” but the literary devices at work are surprisingly cutting edge. This hybrid style of “old and new” is diatomic as King Arthur’s knights lost on Mars. The sense of tragic humor helps to keep things light.
The Faithful Lover is a book that had attained great prestige, yet, as years gone by, has become unknown to a new generation of readers. It is a work that is worthy of rediscovery. I enjoyed every story in The Faithful Lover. There wasn’t a single one I can point to and say it was lacking. Give this book a try, tear through the mundane, and experience another world that runs parallel to our own.