Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Tank (La Cisterna), by Nicola Lombardi


I had never heard of Nicola Lombardi before. That's not surprising. He is an Italian horror author and this is the only one of his books translated into English (as far as I am aware). I only became aware of this book because it was in the preliminary ballot for the Superior Achievement in a Novel category of the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards (the same year as one of my books was in the preliminary ballot, though for a different category). I like to follow prizes so acquired many of the books on the preliminary ballot, to discover new authors and titles. And then, of course, it took me a long time to get round to reading them ...

Well, I read a lot, and only two of the books I'd acquired from the list really moved and horrified me. This was one of them. (The other was The Sadist’s Bible, by Nicole Cushing.) I finished The Tank last night and the ending was every bit as bleak as I'd expected.

I'm not going to tell you what it's about, or what the titular Tank is for. No, it isn't the kind of tank with a gun and metal treads. But this story follows a single character through a year of their life, and almost every moment of it takes place within just a few rooms. In lesser hands that could be repetitive and slow, but I never felt that was the case here. I was always compelled to read on, even when I occasionally felt sick. I _had to know_. And the character arc and revelation both rewarded me and punished me for my morbid curiosity, totally in keeping with the contents of the story. Some things are so horrible that they create a sick fascination; the imagination wondering "What would it be like if ..." and refusing to stop prodding and probing. Here the reader almost experiences the same gruesome obsessions as the protagonist. Why are we doing this? What awaits us? Will our soul be permanently degraded by the experience? And what is the worst punishment for a crime?

The story is set within a totalitarian fascist regime, the New Moral Order (NMO). We have the stifling observation and secrecy of 1984 crossed with the moral bleakness of The Road, and told through a perspective that isn't a million miles away from "potentially deteriorating mental stability of a lonely lighthouse keeper" stories.

I thought this book was brilliant. It did everything it should, but with the most important being: make me pick up the book again and carry on. To know the truth even though I suspect what it will be, and it won't be pleasant.

There is one element I haven't touched on. The translation. Much as I hate to criticise things, it sometimes reads as if Google did it. On the one hand we get strange turns of phrase that wouldn't come about from a native English speaker - and that's actually not a problem. If anything it adds to the charm and the alien-ness of the thoughts, and the freshness of the imagery, and I would keep that aspect. However, there are also a lot of typos and incorrect words, and they are all ones that would have been easily picked up by a native-English proofreader (e.g. "the voices were suddenly louder know.") Now, please bear in mind that I am a stickler for punctuation and writing and grammar. I make my living as a writer and editor. I have been known to drop books for far fewer mistakes. So, the fact that I give this five stars DESPITE THOSE ERRORS is a huge vote of confidence. I am sure the original work in its native language is much more eloquent, and the issues are all minor translation issues that could be easily fixed whilst keeping the bulk of the translation exactly as it is. It's as if I am looking at the original story through a dirty window. And the view is enough that, despite the grime, or the barriers to communication, I keep looking. That's actually high praise. This is truly one of the most compelling and horrible books I've ever read.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello there! This post could not be written much better! Reading
through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!

He continually kept talking about this. I'll send this post to
him. Fairly certain he'll have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

Karl Drinkwater said...

Glad it was interesting. I love drawing attention to creative works that deserve it. :-)