This is writing with heart and soul filled with quirky characters, secrets and brilliant observations of life.
The Sense of an Elephant
Pan Macmillan Australia
Pietro arrives in Milan with an old bicycle and a battered suitcase full of tokens of the past. He takes up a post as concierge in a small apartment building, where it soon becomes apparent he has a deep-seated reason to be there. Living in the palazzo is Luca, a doctor, whose wife Viola carries a secret that could destroy their marriage; the bereaved lawyer Poppi, kind and desperately lonely; and elderly Paola and her damaged son, both looking for impossible love. Right from the start Pietro has a special interest in Luca and his family, and soon he’s using the concierge spare keys to let himself into his apartment while the family is out. Pietro’s story is told in snatches and flashbacks, each prompted by one of the objects and notes he keeps in his suitcase, and gradually we find out what has brought him to be guardian of these lost souls, so late in his life . . .
A memorable narrative filled with what at first appears to be quirky individuals but as you read further you begin to know these characters as individuals with a past that has shaped their present in unique ways; as individuals that are flawed, that are real, lives where love or loneliness has shaped and determined their paths.
The biggest theme and the most moving is the evocative sense of an elephant… elephants ”… take care of the herd without regard to kinship.” (p.65 ) The protagonist Pietro, the keeper of secrets, is charged with taking care of those around him, his community, but he is also determined to protect his own kin; a difficult act to balance.
But this is more than a story about love, themes of death and assisted dying are also woven into this intricate plot; death of a child, death of a lover, a partner…death of aspirations and plans for the future. The sub story of the old man who cares for his son who needs the assistance of tubes and machines to live is heartbreaking. What a wonderful example of love this is.
There are so many memorable moments and observations in this novel but one that will stay with me is this, Luca says to Pietro (p.193) “When my mother was dying she told me she had one single passion in her life. “Papa,” I said to her. ”No,” she said….”It was someone I knew before I was married,” my mother said. “The only good secret in my life.”… ‘I asked my mother how she came to marry my father. She said, “Papa was the love for a lifetime.” So what was the other? “The other was the love of a lifetime.”
Great characters, brilliant observations of love and life and death and an ending that will bring a tear to your eye. Memorable reading.