Book review - The Parrots

Filippo Bologna's debut, How I won the War, was an entertaining and lively satire about land development in Tuscany. The Parrots focuses on the world of literary awards with the restless energy of Rome as its backdrop.

Three nameless authors are competing for a major prize. The Beginner’s first and only novel has been lauded by the critics but remains largely unread by the public. He lives with his girlfriend and they are both unnerved by the arrival of a large black parrot which appears to fall from the sky and thud to its death on their balcony. Later, the bird revives only to taunt The Beginner with verbal accusations about his creative talents. It comes to represent his inner doubting voice and feeds his growing paranoia that he is being spied on; The Beginner has a betrayal on his conscience.

In terms of the competition, however, the bookies’ odds are on The Writer, who is successful, wealthy, good-looking and popular. But is his work really his own and is it actually any good?  Just in case, his publisher has comes up with a fool-proof idea to ensure that he wins The Prize. The Writer also harbours a guilty secret. Meanwhile, the haughty, dishevelled Master will stop at nothing to gain the recognition he thinks he deserves. He’s penniless and suffering from prostate cancer which makes him all the more determined to win whatever the cost.

Bologna exploits his subject’s allegorical potential to great effect: The Prize Academy is full of books and the Master spends some time pondering the title and weight of the book that will eventually cause the building’s collapse. Meanwhile, The Beginner, fed up with the parrot’s goading, shoves it in a bag and throws in various unread masterpieces, rendering it unconscious; “crushed by the weight of culture”. The Beginner then throws the bird into the Tiber.

The Parrots is often very funny – the gossip and feverish speculation surrounding literary awards is evidently the same the world over – and lucidly translated by Howard Curtis. The Writer’s scathing pseudonymous review of The Beginner’s book echoes a real-life scandal (involving a British author) and perfectly illustrates the hostility, rather than camaraderie, of the authors. Less successful are Bologna’s digressions on various species of birds. The title remains something of an enigma until the Epilogue when, in a very neat twist, its full significance is finally revealed.

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