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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Measure of Time

Gianrico Carofiglio

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To purchase The Measure of Time

Title: The Measure of Time
Author: Gianrico Carofiglio
Genre: Novel
Written: 2019 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 285 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Measure of Time - US
The Measure of Time - UK
The Measure of Time - Canada
Zeit der Schuld - Deutschland
La misura del tempo - Italia
  • Italian title: La misura del tempo
  • Translated by Howard Curtis

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an effective, low-intensity legal procedural

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 8/3/2021 Barry Forshaw
Sunday Times . 12/3/2021 Joan Smith
Wall St. Journal . 24/4/2021 Tom Nolan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Carofiglio has written more beguiling entries for his saturnine lawyer, but admirers will find all the right buttons pressed here." - Barry Forshaw, Financial Times

  • "Mr. Carofiglio, drawing on his own professional background, excels at describing everyday legal proceedings in ways that transfix the reader." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

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 Measure of Time is the sixth novel featuring lawyer Guido Guerrieri. Over fifty, he certainly seems to be feeling tired -- including (or especially) regarding the profession that, as he notes, he just kind of fell into. Right at the start there's a scene where he admits:

     At this point I should have devoted myself to studying the case files for the following day's hearing. I didn't feel like it. Nothing new about that: for some years now legal papers had been filling me with a sense of nausea, and the syndrome was getting slowly but inexorably worse.
       He literally has a punching bag (which he calls 'Mr Punchbag') to take out some of his frustrations on, part of a routine that keeps him at least physically fit and not feeling too old, though even that is tinged with a bit of sentimentality, as he couldn't let go of the beat-up old bag that he's long had even when he received a shiny new one as a well-meaning present on his fiftieth birthday.
       Apparently in something of a rut, a blast from the past threatens to make the sense of lost time, opportunity, and youth even more pronounced, as a new client comes to see him, asking him to take on an appeals case, her son, Iacopo Cardace, having been sentenced to twenty-four years prison on a murder charge. The woman is Lorenza Delle Foglie, and twenty-seven years earlier she and Guerrieri had been lovers.
       With chapters that recount how they met and the course of their relationship interspersed between the present-day scenes, one might fear that The Measure of Time will be a treacly wallow in lost youth and passion, contrasted with the tired present-day, and, certainly, there is some of that. The scenes, of a young and still quite unsure of himself Guerrieri and an older woman -- she is several years his senior -- who doesn't let herself be pinned down easily allow Guerrieri to reflect on his younger and in many ways still unformed self -- and, for example, his thirst to learn, as he had let her guide him into a world of literature and books -- still a passion of his -- that he had never been exposed to. There's also clearly a sense of hurt, lingering deep, about their abrupt separation, as she disappeared from his life as abruptly as she entered into it. When he realizes who is standing in front of him, after so many years, Guerrieri admits: "I realized I'd never told anyone about her, or about those months when our paths had crossed"; only now, here, does he really revisit and work through the entire relationship again.
       Fortunately, however, that's only part of The Measure of Time. That Lorenza is still just a substitute teacher, just like she was back then -- suggesting unfulfilled ambitions (though she has published a book in the meantime) -- makes it easier for Guerrieri to separate a past in which, in part, she seems to have remained stuck from the present which Guerrieri long moved onto. More to the point, there's the case she wants him to take on: for all the human side to Guerrieri, he's also very much the professional, and it's in his handling of this that Carofiglio -- himself a lawyer -- excels. Ultimately, the heart of The Measure of Time is the legal-procedural part of it, culminating in the courtroom scenes of the appeal being played out (as, of course, Guerrieri does take on the case).
       The legal system here is the Italian one -- Guerrieri lives and works in Bari -- and the court case is not the actual high court trial-for-murder that was complete the year before; Guerrieri is appealing the verdict. The defense lawyer in the original court case was no longer at the height of his game, but the evidence -- even if mostly circumstantial -- was (and remains) quite convincing. As part of the appeal, Guerrieri does call witnesses who testify -- both providing some new evidence, as well as clarifying their trial-testimony (for example Lorenza, who was clearly flustered by the line of questioning at the original trial). But he is limited in what additional information he can find, three years after the crime, and what he can introduce here.
       The police, having practically immediately found a suspect who looked good for the crime, made no real effort to consider alternative theories of the crime -- something that Guerrieri can and does point out. Of course, there are quite good reasons why the police zeroed in on Iacopo and didn't even look for other suspects ..... Guerrieri has a small group of very competent staff and helpers who carefully examine the trial records and look for other evidence, but Carofiglio doesn't go for American-style courtroom drama with last-second bombshells. Indeed, the appeal of The Measure of Time is that it is so much more realistic: Carofiglio presents a more everyday case, almost mundane in the motions all concerned go through, with minimal wiggle-room to change the outcome. Guerrieri and his team do find some issues with how the case was originally handled, by both the police and the defense, and the case is clearly not as clear-cut as everybody originally thought but there's also no smoking gun that can simply point guilt elsewhere -- just wisps of (faded) smoke.
       In the resolution to Iacopo's case, Carofiglio arguably has his cake and eats it too in having justice served, a bit conveniently; it (just) passes muster -- though admittedly does fit in well with the general sense of arbitrariness to so many aspects of the system (and, indeed, life generally ...), as presented by Carofiglio.
       Guerrieri maintains his distance from Lorenza in the present-day, keeping their relationship professional, as here too he doesn't let himself get carried away by sentimentality, which makes the (lengthy) reminiscences more easily digestible. The nature of the relationship nearly three decades earlier also reflects intriguingly on his current one, as Guerrieri is in a relationship with his private investigator, Annapaola,-- though he's not quite sure just what stage they're at in it; as he puts it, she is: "also my girlfriend. More or less. The jury's still out on the definition". Here, too, Carofiglio keeps the personal mostly in the background -- for the better.
       A few other digressions are woven into the story, lightening it up some without interfering too much; certainly, the (unlikelyly named) Osteria de Caffellatte, a bookshop that is open only at night that Guerrieri visits, makes for an appealing little detour. Throughout, Guerrieri is quite reflective, too, but Carofiglio has a good feel for how to pace that: when it gets time to be professional, Guerrieri is very much on the case.
       The reflections on legal and judicial procedure are another interesting aspect of the case, as Guerrieri explains the appeals process playing out and the choices he makes along the way. Some of this might feel dry -- the case does not offer American TV or John Grisham-style courtroom drama or theatrics -- but fascinating in its authenticity. Indeed, The Measure of Time works particularly well because it manages to avoid the sensational. (Mostly: there are a few bits of sensation -- significant, too -- but they feature almost as asides.) The insight into the Italian system -- different from the common law-traditions of the US and UK --, including some of the day-to-day courtroom workings, are a nice bit of color, too.
       The Measure of Time offers a neat balance between personal reflection and professional action. The fact that so much about Iacopo's case is ambiguous -- right down to the very end -- is particularly effective. If the appeals case and how it unfolds may seem almost unexciting, its slow simmer offers a different kind of reader-satisfaction that Carofiglio pulls off well.
       A solid novel that feels like it manages to do exactly what the author intended.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 March 2021

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The Measure of Time: Reviews: Other books by Gianrico Carofiglio under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Gianrico Carofiglio was a prosecutor in Italy. He was born in 1961.

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© 2021 the complete review

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