cover image A Violent Life

A Violent Life

Pier Paolo Pasolini. Pantheon Books, $13 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-73505-2

This 1958 novel by the Italian filmmaker Pasolini (1922-1975), long out of print in English, is an excellent reminder of his role as a bridge between the brutal naturalism of the neo-realists and a more fantastic style. The book chronicles the life and death of Tommaso, a street kid who is equally comfortable running with the Fascists, the Communists and just plain thieves. Pasolini tells his story in a series of connected episodes, each of which could stand alone as a short story. Tommaso's milieu is the filthy slums outside Rome; his occupation is whatever comes to hand to make a few bucks, until a stretch in prison convinces him to go straight--more or less. On either side of the political spectrum or just outside the law, his life is a compelling testimony to the strange and powerful solidarity of the utterly dispossessed, so much so that in the book's final chapter, Tommaso gives his life to save other slum-dwellers in a flood. In Pasolini's hands, this material is relentless in its grim honesty, avoiding sentimentality at all costs. Particularly effective are a nightmarish, almost hallucinatory chapter set in a TB hospital and the final episode. Often unpleasant, and somewhat repetitive in its scatological language, this novel may not be to all tastes, but as an avatar of Pasolini's later film world, it is essential reading. (Nov.)