This month's update comes to you, once again, a few days late. Things have been quite disrupted here in Italy - more about that later. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that I've been working hard on the final draft of The Lit and Unlit World. There are two things about this part of the writing process that I always appreciate. First, the return to the real world after months immersed in the world of the book; the final part of finishing a book always involves getting in touch with your agents and editors, whom you haven't properly seen for a while, and letting them know that the manuscript will be on its way in a few weeks, and also looking at it with the eye of an external reader. I find this part of the process a very welcome one; it often injects a positive energy into the final part of the work. The second positive, for me, is the chance to go through all my research notes again and weave them into the fabric of the manuscript, which is an absorbing process. So the month went past very quickly, and I only find myself sitting down to write an update now that it's already March.
This has been a strange month in Italy, and I wanted to write briefly about that in this post, especially as the situation has been covered so much and so dramatically in the international media. As some of you have seen, we're currently going through a very difficult period caused by the coronavirus epidemic, with emergency security measures now in place all over the country since 2:00 last night. Things had already been in half lock-down in Turin for a couple of weeks, so this wasn't a complete surprise to us and most people who expected to be working from home today had already prepared for it yesterday. The way the news is being portrayed from outside, however, seems to be quite different to the reality here in Italy and in the Italian-language media. The feeling isn't one of apocalyptic doom; in fact, the worry is more a public health one about how to care for everybody, especially the elderly, if we don't manage to flatten out the peak of the disease so that the health system can manage it adequately - and also worries about local companies and small businesses. We have an excellent free health system here, with spare capacity when needed, and in a country like this it makes a huge difference in terms of loss of life among the elderly to take strict measures in this type of epidemic. It's a public health decision which each government takes for itself, but speaking personally I'm glad that Italy is taking an approach which protects the vulnerable in society, even if it comes at such a heavy cost. So we are fine here in Turin, and the general feeling is that these measures are in place for a good reason, and we will have to stay at home and follow them as long as needed, in order to protect our elderly and immunocompromised neighbours. But of course it's difficult, and we hope it won't be for longer than the predicted date, the 3rd of April, and that local businesses won't be irretrievably harmed. We're mostly supposed to stay in our houses, and everyone is trying to keep up with and interpret the regulations and get a day's work done too, so the city this morning is understandably muted and quiet. In the coming days, I think a lot of people will be trying to figure out how to support their local businesses while still keeping the new laws. We're not totally confined to our houses - we can go to a food shop, for instance, or buy takeaway food, or go out, if necessary, to get food at a restaurant or a bar with spaced-out tables. A lot of people I know are working from home, with varying degrees of success, but for a writer, there isn't much change to the day-to-day pace of life between nine and six o' clock. It does feel strange to be required to stay in the house all the time - it's the main topic of conversation among everyone here in Turin, and we all feel that our usual social lives and important societal connections are disrupted. This is particularly difficult in a city in which everything is based on congregating outdoors and in public places. But we are mostly doing fine in ourselves. One interesting development is that a lot of Italian celebrities have been encouraging their fans to stay at home as much as possible already in recent days, even when the lock-down was only an advisory measure, using the hashtag #iorestoacasa, and that means that on social media a lot of people are talking about books and making book and film recommendations. In some apartment buildings in Turin, groups of students have been leaving notes for their elderly neighbours offering to go and buy their shopping for them so that they can stay safely in their houses. And the jokes circulating on social media are also entertaining. So there are some positive moments as people try to make a virtue of necessity and find something constructive in being asked to stay confined to the house for so long.
For me, one bright point has been discovering new books; I've had a lot of time to read during these past weeks when our evening activities have been limited. New to me was Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison - I've wanted to read this book for a long time. Even from the first chapter, the way that Morrison handles the transitions from scene to scene, the quick switchbacks in mood from comedy to tragedy, the way she conjures the characters and the world and, of course, the way she speaks to urgent issues about race and injustice in America, are all powerfully and beautifully rendered. It's a complicated novel, an intricate world, often poetic, often sad, often violent and difficult to read, and I've already started reading it for a second time because I think I'll gain even more from a second reading. My second discovery of this month was In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne. The poetry and the realism of this book, the characters, the relationships, the strength and compassion of their voices, all really blew me away. The story itself is hard-hitting and tragic but also full of beauty, and that's maybe something both writers, different as they are, have in common with each other. This is the first book I've read that captures the way young people speak in London and preserves it so authentically and lovingly; in Guy Gunaratne's words, 'London can be an unkind place to live and grow up in, but I just love the way we spoke'. He has more insights about writing in this interesting interview here. If anybody has any book recommendations to send my way, English or Italian, they will be very gratefully received, as I have a feeling that in March we will all be doing a lot more reading... Otherwise that's all for now, and I'll head back to my desk to carry on working on the final draft of the book.
With warmest wishes from Turin, where we're hoping for better news soon, and a return to the normal life of our city.