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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Disappearance of
Signora Giulia

Piero Chiara

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To purchase The Disappearance of Signora Giulia

Title: The Disappearance of Signora Giulia
Author: Piero Chiara
Genre: Novel
Written: (1962) (Eng. 2015)
Length: 122 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Disappearance of Signora Giulia - US
The Disappearance of Signora Giulia - UK
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The Disappearance of Signora Giulia - India
I giovedě della signora Giulia - Italia
  • Italian title: I giovedě della signora Giulia
  • Serialized in 1962; first published in book form in 1970
  • Translated by Jill Foulston

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Our Assessment:

B- : lots of promising elements; doesn't quite come together

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Disappearance of Signora Giulia is an odd little mystery, set in the mid-1950s. It begins in "the small town of M—", with local lawyer Esengrini reporting the disappearance of his wife, and asking Commissario Corrado Sciancalepre to look into it. It appears -- and that's what he tells the policeman -- that she has run away from home.
       Signora Giulia is more than twenty years younger than her sixty-year-old husband -- "and treated him like an old uncle". As he admits: "Signora Giulia wants nothing more to do with me in bed", so theirs was not the most satisfying of marriages any longer, but Esengrini wants to know what happened.
       Signora Giulia traveled every Thursday by train to Milan, to visit their fifteen-year-old daughter, Emilia, at her boarding school, but this time it looks like she had done a runner, taking more baggage -- and her valuable jewelry -- with her.
       Esengrini admits that a few months earlier he had had her followed in Milan, and learned that she would meet with an engineer, Fumagalli, who had worked on the local harbor the previous summer, and been adopted into the local circle -- "He was our wives' little pet", Esengrini reminds Sciancalepre. He didn't confront his wife about it at the time, but Esengrini planned to intervene at the end of the school year, taking Emilia out of school, which would deprive his wife of her excuse to go to Milan, but she disappeared before then.
       Sciancalepre travels to Milan and sniffs around. He finds there was indeed another man in Signora Giulia's life, but he seems to have vanished as well -- while a letter he sent her suggests they were not together on the day of her disappearance.
       The action in The Disappearance of Signora Giulia isn't really fast; indeed, there isn't that much action. The trails are cold, the question remains open, the mystery as puzzling as ever. There are no clues as to what might have happened to Signora Giulia.
       Years pass.
       One character from the past does resurface in M— along the way. Engineer Fumagalli. And he and the still-teenage Emilia fall in love -- to the shock and outrage of her father.
       She has to wait until she is of age -- 21 ! -- to marry without parental consent, but she is patient, and, after more years pass, there is a wedding. Even the old family home becomes hers, and her estranged father is forced to move out and take an apartment in town. But sometime after the newlyweds move in, they find that someone seems to be visiting the property late at night. Esengrini, perhaps ? And do these late-night doings have anything to do with the still entirely open question of what became of Signora Giulia ?
       Sciancalepre is asked to investigate, to get to the bottom of things. And he does. Not only that, the fate of Signora Giulia is finally determined. Closer to home than anyone seems to have suspected. Esengrini believes he knows exactly what happened, but the evidence isn't exactly clear-cut, one way or another; it can be read this way or that.
       There is a trial, but it is merely pro forma, the outcome inevitable. Even as it's clear what ultimately happened, some answers -- of how it all played out leading to that grim conclusion -- remain shrouded in a very dense fog. Justice doesn't really seem to be served.
       In some ways The Disappearance of Signora Giulia is ingenious, especially in it explanation(s) of what became of Signora Giulia and who is responsible (and how, apparently, they get away with it). But it's a hard trick to pull off, and Chiara falls a bit short in the execution.
       Although this is such a slim novel -- not much more than a hundred pages -- it covers a long period, and there are long stretches when little that appears to have anything to do with the case happens. Time passes. The novel was originally serialized in a newspaper, and it likely was considerably more effective in that presentation, the gaps easier to accept, given the interval between the pieces; published all together, much of the story appears too skeletal. There's also that major twist, of the reappearing engineer, Fumagalli -- who once courted the missing woman ? There needs to be more to the descriptions of his relationship with Emilia here; as is, it's little more than the description of an extended courtship, never mind the baggage that surely comes along with it. Similarly, Esengrini is long left to simply stew -- before appearing much more (pro-)active again.
       The Disappearance of Signora Giulia did not necessarily have to be any longer -- tight is good, and this could have been a really tight thriller -- but it's actually baggy, in the wrong places, undermining the suspense. The concept is very clever, but some of the red herrings loom too large, and Chiara can't quite manage to bring the idea cleanly across.
       The Disappearance of Signora Giulia is satisfying enough in its dark, almost cruel resolution -- but not quite satisfying enough along most of the strangely protracted and bumpy way.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 April 2017

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The Disappearance of Signora Giulia: Reviews: Other books by Piero Chiara under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Piero Chiara lived 1913 to 1986.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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