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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Let the Games Begin

Niccolò Ammaniti

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Let the Games Begin

Title: Let the Games Begin
Author: Niccolò Ammaniti
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 328 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Let the Games Begin - US
Let the Games Begin - UK
Let the Games Begin - Canada
Let the Games Begin - India
La fête du siècle - France
Lasst die Spiele beginnen - Deutschland
Che la festa cominci - Italia
Que empiece la fiesta - España
  • Italian title: Che la festa cominci
  • Translated by Kylee Doust

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Our Assessment:

B- : busy satire with quite a few fun ideas, but too lazily done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 7/7/2011 André Clavel
Financial Times . 20/9/2013 David Evans
Le Monde . 7/7/2011 Simonetta Greggio
El País . 23/7/2011 Justo Navarro
Publishers Weekly . 27/5/2013 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Sa charge est féroce, son regard impitoyable, mais ses dialogues bâclés et sa prose télégraphique frisent l'anorexie: du Tom Wolfe en version BD." - André Clavel, L'Express

  • "This is scattergun satire that rarely hits the target." - David Evans, Financial Times

  • "La Fête du siècle est-elle un bon roman ? C'est un livre brillant, fluide, nerveux, foudroyant par moments. Mais il n'est pas totalement réussi. Est-ce qu'il faut le lire quand même ? Oui, parce qu'on rit. Oui, parce qu'à la fin on a envie de pleurer." - Simonetta Greggio, Le Monde

  • "Ammaniti pone en marcha a todo motor la lógica de la carcajada, es decir, de la sorpresa feliz, como si el disparate, la distorsión y la deformación fueran la mejor estrategia para representar la realidad. (...) Que empiece la fiesta es grande, una compañía excelente." - Justo Navarro, El País

  • "This book pulls off a rare feat: an action-packed but well-paced satire populated with characters rather than caricatures." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Let the Games Begin basically proceeds in alternating chapters centered around the four-person satanic cult, 'the Wilde Beasts of Abaddon', and around successful author Fabrizio Ciba; their stories begin to overlap about half-way through the novel.
       The Wilde Beasts of Abaddon are not a very impressive satanic cult; even their one attempt at sacrificing a virgin had failed (though Silvietta, the sacrifice, had a good enough time that she joined the gang). Head-man Saverio Moneta-- or 'Mantos' -- works in his father-in-law's furniture business and is miserable in his domestic life, and now sees his hobby-cult falling apart too (there have been quite a few defections recently). He tells the remaining three cultists -- Silvietta, Murder, and Zombie -- that he has a big coup planned that will really put them on the map, but in fact he doesn't have any idea of what to do next.
       Fabrizio is forty-one and could, if he wanted to, live off of what he makes from his one big success, the short novel The Lion's Den. But he likes to be in the limelight, and he likes to live well. His previous book hasn't sold particularly well, and he's struggling with the one he's working on now -- and, as he soon learns, his publishers want to cut back what they're paying him.
       Focused on Saverio and Fabrizio, Let the Games Begin goes on for a while with both characters flailing about to find (or retain) the life they'd like to lead. Eventually, opportunity of sorts presents itself in the form of a blow-out to be held at the famous Villa Ada and its large grounds in Rome. It was recently privatized -- bought and renovated -- by a businessman, who now plans:

a housewarming party so exclusive and sumptuous that it would be remembered throughout the centuries to come as the biggest, globally important event to take place in the history of our republic.
       The Villa has, indeed, been impressively renovated, and the party sounds like a great bash (with the most exclusive guests). On the other hand, the special treat organized for the party -- three safari-type hunts (English fox hunt, African lion hunt, and Indian tiger hunt (on elephants, no less ...)) -- obviously might not be the best of ideas.
       The Wilde Beasts of Abaddon, gaining access as part of the party staff, see opportunity there for something spectacularly satanic. Meanwhile, Fabrizio isn't even sure he want to go until the last second -- and even then has some regrets when the much younger Wunderkind-author Matteo Sporelli as well as one of the old Italian masters, Umberto Cruciani, are also present (though that works out very well for Fabrizio in the end).
       The satanic cult never really seemed very menacing, beyond their (nick)names, and it's no surprise that they're only half-hearted about going through with Saverio's plans -- especially once their leader starts insisting they'll have to crown their undertaking in the glory of suicide (preferable to inevitably being taken into custody, he insists). One can see why Saverio wants to get away from it all, but not all his followers are quite so keen -- but at least Zombie sets enough of the plan into action to unleash a domino-effect of havoc. And just in case there's not enough that can go disastrously wrong here, Ammaniti reveals yet another historical layer to the Villa Ada (laying it on pretty thick, by this point ...).
       Let the Games Begin is very broad satire -- targeting, among other things, of course the partying-excess of sometime Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. In Fabrizio, Ammaniti also skewers popular writers (and their many insecurities, from concerns about writer's block to how they want their fans to see them). A bit too capricious, and easily seduced by any feminine approaches, he is also no hero. Self-centered, he's also an opportunist and bit of a whinger. Among the most amusing scenes with the would-be writer is when he injures himself during the proceedings:
     He touched his arm. He had difficulty bending it.
     If I've dislocated my shoulder, I'll never be able to write again.
     It was too much for Fabrizio Ciba. A rage as bitter as vinegar started to bubble in his stomach and rise towards his esophagus. The more he thought about what had happened to him, the angrier he got. He was so full of rage that he risked exploding like a soccer ball.
       (The above also is a good example of Ammaniti's writing, typically off. Leaving aside Fabrizio's histrionics about his injury (maybe he literally can't write with a dislocated shoulder, but surely we expect more of our writers ....): surely vinegar is more sour-tasting than bitter ? And, yes, soccer balls can burst, but it's not a common (or obvious) occurrence or image -- and the image it then suggests is not a great fit with someone who is enraged.)
       The satanic cult is entirely unconvincing as such, and that is a bit problematic here. Sure, for Saverio and his few remaining cohorts it's just a form of escapism -- but then occasionally they do seem to want to go way over the line (sacrificing a virgin, and then the much grander plan they have at the party). Saverio's sad home life explains why he might be driven to such extremes, but Ammaniti isn't very good at presenting a man driven to edge; almost at every other point it seems Saverio could just turn around and head back home to his sad-sack life. (Ammaniti does allow him the greatest glory, however: Saverio does act nobly, and also does escape the mundane life that he was stuck in -- albeit not at all in any way he ever anticipated.)
       At one point, his publisher tells Fabrizio (about the latest very unusual twist in the Villa Ada goings-on):
This would make an incredible novel. Up there with The Name of the Rose, if you know what I mean.
       Fabrizio, looking for material, and with first-hand knowledge of much that happened here, has this wonderful story practically fall into his lap -- and, at the time, he is tempted to make this his next novel. As it turns out, his next book is a great success -- but it's something entirely different (beyond that it also essentially just dropped into his lap), and typical of the lazy ways Ammaniti prefers: why do the hard work when there are alternatives ?
       There are a lot of fun ideas in Let the Games Begin, and Ammaniti has some decent fun with a few of them -- but he rarely does quite enough, and he certainly doesn't develop enough. The constant shifting back and forth among characters makes it easier to get away with this rather superficial treatment of everything, but ultimately it also leaves the novel feeling rather hollow. (Laying it on a bit too thick, with a few more subterranean layers, doesn't help, either.)
       Much of the material is pretty decent, but such extravagant satire requires a different hand. Ammaniti's touch isn't particularly sure, as the novel veers between silly and serious; when in doubt (i.e. constantly), there's always a new chapter, focused on other characters to distract the reader with ..... (At least Ammaniti isn't that much of a sentimentalist here, willing to sacrifice characters right and left, which makes the story a bit more bearable.)
       There are some good ideas and some entertaining scenes, but on the whole Let the Games Begin falls fairly flat.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 July 2013

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Let the Games Begin: Reviews: Other books by Niccolò Ammaniti under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Popular Italian author Niccolò Ammaniti was born in 1966.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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