Posts Tagged ‘Guido Morselli’

Translated from the Italian by Frederika Randall

Dissipatio H.G. was the first book I received after the renewal of my Asymptote book club subscription. It is I admit, a novel I would never have read without this subscription – which for me has been the point of getting it again – forcing me out of my comfort zone, introducing me to all sorts of new voices. This is a new edition from NYRB though the novel was first published in 1977 – four years after the author’s death.

“The world has never been so alive as it is since a certain breed of bipeds disappeared. It’s never been so clean, so sparkling, so good-humoured.”

Guido Morselli’s story is in itself a sad one. Having previously had several novels rejected by publishers, the rejection of this one was to prove the final straw. That evening after receipt of the rejection letter he shot himself. A year after his death, an Italian publishing house began to publish all his novels one by one – to some critical acclaim.

This is one of those times when my reading material impacted rather on my mood. While I certainly didn’t dislike this book, I was affected by the extraordinary isolation of the novel’s natator. Perhaps reading a novel like this whilst shielding, during a global pandemic lends it an extra resonance – that sense of real aloneness is almost suffocating.

“And the silence of human absence, I understand, is a silence that doesn’t flow. It accumulates.”

The author’s sadness and his own isolation pervades this novel – which considering the premise is perhaps not surprising. Dissipatio H.G. is a postapocalyptic novel in which the narrator – who it appears to be not unlike the author himself – is the last man on earth. The novel opens with a contemplation and attempt of suicide – which ultimately fails.

The narrator who has been living in isolation in a remote mountain village in an unnamed country – has survived the great vanishing. There was no gradual fading out of the humani generis – the H.G of the title – but a sudden and complete vanishing.

“These people left, I say to myself. They didn’t melt. Lower down in the valley, someone will have seen them go by, someone will know something, will explain this to me. So I must follow the road. There’s only one, it continues north toward the plain. A means of transport must be found.”

He drives to the capital Chrysopolis to see if there is anyone else living – but finds no one – no bodies, no people anywhere. Cars stopped suddenly, buildings lie open and empty. This is a city of fifty-six banks and as many churches, a metropolis which symbolises everything this man has come to despise. The man left this hated city, separating himself from his fellow humans and their daily struggles and ambitions. Yet, to find everyone gone – all human beings disappeared is rather more than he can get his head around at first. He attempts to test the theory that there must be people somewhere else – even if not in Chrysopolis – going to the airport to see people arriving, phoning foreign countries to hear a live voice.  Soon though he is left in no doubt – he is the last man on earth.

Our narrator is a man who seems to understand the impact on the natural world of that modern, frantic existence that he turned his back on. Now, he starts to see how nature is already, in these early days, beginning to flourish.

“Without seeking it, I’ve found proof that the Event is not an illusion, not just my own invention. A family of Chamois goats is walking along the tracks. Two females, a male, and kids. They’ve come down from the mountains, something that has never happened before in human memory. For that matter I’ve seen other good omens too: the birds are making an unholy racket, and their numbers have grown. Especially the nocturnal species that have come back in droves, which pleases me because I’ve always appreciated their musical talents.”

Now, as he wanders the empty streets and buildings helping himself to provisions, breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s house to lie between her deserted sheets – he is continually asking himself a number of complex philosophical questions. His memories turn frequently to the man he saw as his one real friend; Karpinsky, a psychiatrist who once treated him.  His thoughts wander and are at times hard to follow – he is naturally self-absorbed – a clever man trying to make sense of where he finds himself.

This is a powerful little novel at times complex and thought provoking. Already my next Asymptote book has arrived – and it is very different to this one. I continue to be impressed with the quality of the choices made by Asymptote.

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