cover image Agostino


Alberto Moravia, trans. from the Italian by Michael F. Moore. New York Review Books, $14.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-59017-723-5

Moravia’s novel is neither among the great Italian modernist’s most famous works (The Conformist and Contempt became classic films, by Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Luc Godard, respectively), nor, at 100 pages, his longest. But this dreamy, haunting study of a young boy’s painful initiation into sexual consciousness is so psychologically rich and vividly imagined—in Moore’s plangent translation—that it resembles a painting as much as a novella. Young Agostino is on holiday on the coast with the mother he worships. But when she takes a lover, a dejected Agostino seeks acceptance in a group of wild children whose life consists of cruel games and petty crimes. The only adult in their midst is the 12-fingered boatman (and presumptive pederast) Sandro, whose advances toward Agostino call into question the innocence of the young boy’s desires for his mother’s attention. Determined to free himself from the new obsessions that trouble his summer days, Agostino sets his sights on an ill-conceived salvation—that is, the approximation of manhood offered by a local brothel—to reconcile the warring passions that have interrupted his idyll. Like the best of NYRB Classics’ European repertoire, this book both rewards admirers of its illustrious author while providing an entry point for curious readers. Either way, the twinned landscapes of frustrated Oedipal longing and the Fascist-era coastline evoke a tainted beauty both sensuous and violent. (July)