(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A Ghost at Noon is a subtle book about the death of a marriage. Molteni, the narrator, an intellectual who wishes to write for the theater, is married to Emilia, the beautiful daughter of an old Roman family which has become poverty-stricken. She is not highly educated and has devoted herself to caring for her husband and the one furnished room in which they live. They were blissfully happy for two years. Then, Molteni claims, his wife changed, judged him, ceased to love him. The book is both the reconstruction of this decline and an attempt to make sense of it.

Ironically, the first step in the deterioration of the marriage seems to be the result of the narrator’s effort to provide a better home for his wife.After buying the lease of an apartment he cannot afford, he perceives himself as “a poor devil,” isolated in financial anxiety from a domestically inclined, working-class woman who cannot understand his unhappiness. He has incurred debts on her behalf, he believes; to pay them he must prostitute his talent and become a scriptwriter.

The reader wonders if it is, in fact, Emilia who first becomes judgmental. Why do Molteni’s debts involve payments on a car as well as on the apartment? Purchasing a car was not a sacrifice made for Emilia. The reader can see throughout the book Molteni’s confused pattern of behavior. He ignores the indications Emilia gives of her feelings; he constructs what he believes that she feels, acts accordingly, and then blames her for the result.

The struggling author obtains work from Battista, whose company, Triumph Films, occupies an ancient palace: Pictures of film stars are pinned on walls where great, mythological paintings once hung. Emilia detests and distrusts Battista from the time when the three first dine together. On this occasion, in spite of her objections, Molteni lets Battista drive Emilia home while he follows in a taxi. He sees the producer every day. Emilia is always included in their social activities; although she is unwilling, her husband pressures her into joining them.

Yet when Emilia moves into a separate bedroom Molteni is hurt and angry. She becomes unresponsive and uncommunicative, and he desperately tries to discover why her feelings have altered. Her attempts to create physical and emotional space between them drive him to frenzy and ultimately to violence. She wishes to leave but has nowhere to go.

Without her love, Molteni detests scriptwriting even more. He hates its collaborative and anonymous nature, and he hates working for mediocrities such as the director Pasetti, who has, nevertheless, a doting wife and a happy home.

The couple have reached an impasse when Battista proposes to make a film of Homer’s Odyssey. Molteni will write the script; Rheingold, a German who looks like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, will direct it.

Against Emilia’s wishes, the four travel to...

(The entire section is 1201 words.)