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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Parrots

Filippo Bologna

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To purchase The Parrots

Title: The Parrots
Author: Filippo Bologna
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 276 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Parrots - US
The Parrots - UK
The Parrots - Canada
The Parrots - India
I pappagalli - Italia
  • Italian title: I pappagalli
  • Translated by Howard Curtis

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Our Assessment:

B : decent author/prize-culture/literature satire

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 9/8/2013 Ian Thomson
la Repubblica . 13/4/2012 Fulvio Paloscia
The Times . 26/7/2013 Kate Saunders
TLS . 18/10/2013 Nat Segnit

  From the Reviews:
  • "The humour is comic-strip exaggerated and not always very funny. (...) Bologna has been influenced, clearly, by Niccolò Ammaniti, whose novels also combine the darkest comedy with portraits of male stupidity and oafishness. At 35, Bologna displays an unusually jaundiced view of life for one so young." - Ian Thomson, The Guardian

  • "La sua è una scrittura che fa dell' ironia una lama capace di entrare in profondità nella materia del racconto." - Fulvio Paloscia, la Repubblica

  • "In peopling The Parrots with innominate archetypes, Bologna has produced a satire of Swiftian rancour tempered by the panoptic detachment of his narrative voice. (...) Whether readers find Bologna's satire biting or self-indulgent will depend on their tolerance for novels that subordinate the rough textures of reality to the smooth schemata of fable." - Nat Segnit, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       The Parrots follows the three finalists for a Strega-like Italian literary prize (i.e. the winning title is decided on by the vote of a several-hundred-strong jury) in the months leading up to the awarding of the prize. The first section begins 'Three Months before The Ceremony', the second one month, and the story continues to move inexorably closer: one week, one day, finally culminating in the day of The Ceremony.
       Bologna deals in types: he fleshes out his protagonists, but he doesn't give them (or almost anyone) names. Significantly, for a book that is supposed to be about a novel-prize, he never reveals anything about the three novels -- not their plots, not their titles -- beyond a few critical observations that amount to variations on the basic point that: they're not very good. As so often, what is supposed to be a book prize is, instead, all about the author.
       The three contenders are merely referred to as The Writer (forty-six, and with several books under his belt -- "with hundreds of thousands of copies read and translated throughout the world"), The Master (the old man whose books are published by the venerable but tiny Small Publishing Company), and The Beginner (the newcomer whose first book is up for the prize). Everything and everyone is reduced to (arche)type: The Writer, for example, comes with The Second Wife, The Baby, The Ukrainian Nanny, The Filipino, and The Dog. Bologna does make more out of (some of) these characters -- specifically the three authors -- but most of the figures in the novel merely represent a certain kind of figure; specifics aren't important. By not even giving them names Bologna cuts the characters back to the bone (or rather: to their defining role -- wife, publisher, etc.) -- a welcome sort of honesty (many novelists deal with similarly thin figures, but pretend there's more to them by giving them names and a few other attributes), and a reminder that his focus is on something very specific: the contest for the prize.
       The three authors also have to deal with other issues affecting them, and the prize. The Master has terminal cancer, and this is his last shot at going out in glory. The Writer has a big, big secret regarding his books, and with his mother apparently on her deathbed is worried about losing a lot more than just inspiration. And The Beginner has to deal with The Girlfriend and some changed personal circumstances -- as well as, ultimately, an ultimatum from The Girlfriend that makes for a difficult choice.
       Birds and bird's-eye views also figure throughout the novel -- and there is, indeed, a parrot (which, oddly enough, is not: The Parrot), taken in by The Beginner, which also becomes a rather prominent presence.
       The narrative shifts from one author's story to the next in fairly quickly alternating scenes. Each of the finalists struggles with their personal issues, with The Master, at least, doing his best to meddle however he can in the award-process. The publishers keep a running tally of the likely votes, but the race is, for the most part, too close to call -- but there are means of winning over more, depending on the sacrifices an author is willing to make. The question it comes down to for each of them is: "What are you willing to do ?" (and, yes, at least one of them seems willing to go to the absolute extremes in order to emerge triumphant).
       There are some fine comic scenes, as each of the authors rather bumbles through life in these months (especially The Master), and Bologna has good fun in skewering the Italian literary scene and establishment. While some of the literary-scene jokes are fairly local, a lot easily translates, too (right down to the checking of Amazon.it reviews of their own and each other's books ...). The odd way this prize works -- it's not judged by a small panel, like most American or British literary prizes -- allows for a bit more open soliciting (and trading-for-favors) of votes, but the authors' journeys up to The Ceremony are, for the most part, of the fairly universal sort.
       Bologna has some fun with the idea that none of the books are really worthy -- "You should be grateful you’re a finalist, considering what an awful book you wrote", one of them is reminded (and, indeed, at different points all of them are reminded that their books aren't very good) -- but then both the prize and this book are more about the people than the books. It comes as no surprise, either, that the winner of the prize gets it for an entirely extra-literary reason (though what that is is certainly more than readers might have anticipated).
       Still, what Bologna fashions here is more entertainment than insight. His writers, and their situations, may be reasonably plausible -- though the idea that none of the books in contention for the prize is much good seems a bit of a stretch -- but the actual literary aspects are surprisingly lacking. For one, none of the authors are very authorial: none gets much writing done during these months -- with The Master amusingly hoping that when he gets his hands on a computer he'll finally catch up to the younger generations, the words flowing freely again on the magical machine, while the one 'poem' he recites publicly is definitely not something he wanted to share with an audience.
       Indeed, The Parrots suggests the literary enterprise is corrupted through and through, and literature itself decrepit. The (prize-giving) The Academy is: "filled with books, which had accumulated over the years like files in the basement of a Roman courthouse" (and as dusty and forgotten as those files, no doubt), the (physical) weight of which is close to enough to bring the whole edifice (literally and metaphorically) crashing down, while most writing amounts, at best, to a form of parroting.
       An Epilogue, four months after The Ceremony, and then a little Postscript, nicely ties it all up and hammers home the point again, as we learn the fates of the main actors -- and what has become of them. Yes, there's a bit of literary hope -- a book de-coupled entirely from the person behind it, no less (as if, for once, the book is what mattered, not the author) -- but only a bit.
       The Parrots meanders a bit in rotating through its three central characters, and it takes a while to really take hold. Bologna shifts a bit uneasily between outright (and sometimes rather forced) comedy and melancholy, but once everything is set in place and all the premises have been set out, and the pace accelerates as The Ceremony approaches, it's quite good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 August 2013

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The Parrots: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Filippo Bologna was born in 1978.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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