About midway through the novel, the narrator, Corrado, is walking through a war-torn section of the city of Turin. The city is braced for the violence inevitable at the retreat of one army and the advance of another. Cate, the woman with him, angrily accuses him of not understanding the suffering of the people. “’You people’ can’t refer to me,” he responds. “I’m alone. I try to be as alone as possible. . . . Only a man alone can keep his head.”
The remark encapsulates both the theme and the characteristic predicament of the narrator—his inability to understand and to commit to love. The major image in the novel is the house on the hill. The narrator goes to the house at the beginning of the book to live out the war as it rages in the valley and in the city below. News of the war is heard on the radio or from people who straggle in. From time to time the narrator descends, goes into Turin and witnesses the violence for himself.
The action of the book recalls the basic pattern of some of the poems in Hard Labor, especially “South Seas.” In the novel the narrator sets out on a kind of quest, but unlike that of “South Seas,” the quest is both a literal and metaphorical descent into violence and uncertainty. Like that of “South Seas,” the quest is also a search for meaning.
Part of that meaning is symbolized in the narrator’s uncertainty of his relationship with Dino, a young boy whom he...
(The entire section is 506 words.)