After Hannibal (Magill Book Reviews)
The workings of history and the ambiguities of justice have been fruitful themes for author Barry Unsworth. In AFTER HANNIBAL, the characters’ relationships with Italian history imply that all human endeavors are useless, “the same destiny await[s] all human habitations.” In the legal practice of the oracular lawyer Signor Mancini, the novel’s pivotal character whom most of the other characters consult, even the law offers no real justice. However, to extract that bleak message from the fates of these characters, most of them victims of their own flaws—truculence, passivity, greed—seems unnecessarily pessimistic.
Part of the problem lies in the large number of characters who inhabit this little world. With a dozen major characters, the novel scarcely provides space for the drawing to be deep. As a result, the reader never feels an intimate understanding of the characters’ motives. A related problem is that some of the characters are presented with broad satire while others are drawn seriously. The reader must move from comic descriptions of one household’s sexual antics directly to the serious treatment of world history. These mixed modes add to the novel’s thematic fogginess.
AFTER HANNIBAL demonstrates Unsworth’s passion for history as well as his love for the landscapes of Italy, and its plot cleverly interrelates the fates of the diverse people who live along one small access road. Nevertheless, its mixed modes and its...
(The entire section is 322 words.)
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After Hannibal (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
When, two hundred years before the common era, Hannibal and his troops ambushed the Roman army on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, they took advantage of the natural circumstances of the marsh and mists through which the Romans were marching. Other sorts of warfare have also been practiced in and around Perugia. After Hannibal, the city was ruled first by Biordo Michelotti, who, perhaps betrayed by his newlywed wife, was murdered by members of a rival family, the Guidalotti (assisted by Pope Boniface). The Guidalotti were followed by the even more powerful and brutal Baglioni family, who safeguarded their supremacy by controlling the city’s land.
Professor Monti’s academic interest in the bloody history of power politics in medieval Italy supplies the reader with the history which forms the background of After Hannibal. The events of the novel ask the reader to keep that bloody history in mind as Unsworth plays out his characters’ own battles for love and land. Of the two issues, love occupies fewer characters. Professor Monti feels betrayed by his wife’s sudden decision to leave him for another man. Deeply absorbed in his historical studies, Monti was unaware of any causes for his wife’s unhappiness, and now he feels paralyzed by her absence. He withdraws into himself, teaching his classes but staying away from his university colleagues for fear they will sense what is wrong.
Monti’s neighbor, Fabio, has been similarly...
(The entire section is 1846 words.)