The Sense of an Elephant by Marco Missiroli

The Sense of an Elephant

I was delighted to receive an unsolicited copy of Marco Missiroli’s novel ‘The Sense of an Elephant’ from Katie Green at Macmillan. Translated from the Italian by Stephen Twilley, it was published in paperback by Picador on 10th September 2015.

Ex-priest Pietro moves to Milan to become the concierge in an apartment block where he encounters an eclectic and interdependent range of inhabitants, each with their own secrets and lies.

It took me a while to attune to the rhythm of this fascinating novel, because it is often veiled with secrecy in the writing as well as in the characters. This becomes the strength and fascination of reading ‘The Sense of an Elephant’. Just when I thought I had the measure of the narrative, an extra event, phrase or piece of dialogue gave me a jolt and revealed another layer of truth. I actually found myself exclaiming aloud at times when a further secret was uncovered. The iterative image of elephants – and especially to ‘take care of the herd without regard to kinship’ – becomes clearer as the story progresses and does so in a natural and subtle manner.

Pietro’s memories are gradually revealed, intriguing the reader with links made between the present and the past until the final, surprising and satisfying conclusion. A lot of the story is told by inference, by what isn’t written in this pared down prose and I loved the way direct speech usually didn’t have the label of ‘said’ to qualify it so that it felt like natural conversation.

There are dark themes at the centre of ‘The Sense of an Elephant’. The line between humanity and murder is blurred and readers will find themselves questioning their own perceptions and prejudices. That said, this is not a depressing book, but one which deserves careful reading and consideration. I also thought it interesting how men were so frequently referred to by profession, suggesting we never really get to understand the real person.

This is a book about lost faith, death and humanity and how we build our lives. I loved the concept that ‘All you need to survive is one decent memory’ and after wondering if I would enjoy the read at the beginning I found it ultimately poignant, emotional and moving. I am now convinced that everyone needs a little tap dancing in their past.

I thoroughly recommend ‘The Sense of an Elephant’ as a thought provoking and intelligent read.

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