The Sicilian, by Mario Puzo

March 14, 2012 at 14:35 (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Mediocre Books, Thriller) (, , )

7/10

It was bold of Mario Puzo to co-opt the mythology of Sicily for the sake of his own Corleone saga. He could be accused of rank opportunism, if he didn’t manage his recast legend so well. The story is something of an origins story for Michael Corleone, but Puzo has the good graces and good sense to know that Michael Corleone could never have been the focus of this book; and he is thus a suitably peripheral character, dancing around the edges of the fictionalised (and suitably romanticised) history. This was obviously a good decision from a storytelling point of view, and it also makes the choice to tell this story at all seem much less cynical.

It would have been more enjoyable as an historical fiction if Puzo’s obsession with his idealised honourable criminal (either as mafiosi or as Guiliani’s bandits) had not so coloured the narrative: and as greedy men and bitter men and foolish men and petty men murder each other with grave faces and noble-sounding words, it is difficult to take much of it very seriously. Puzo might have been writing a substrata of criticism into his work, but it seems infinitely more likely that he truly bought into his own mythology; and in the end, bought into it just a bit too much to write a completely engrossing book.

“Finally the two men and their donkey vanished over a rise in the street, but she kept watching…as if she would never see them again, until they disappeared in the late morning mist around the mountaintop. They were vanishing into the beginning of their myth.”

-The Sicilian

The romance between Guiliani and his matronly lover is sensitively portrayed and seldom grotsequely graphic, although this book would not be by Mario Puzo if it was entirely fresh and clean. The weakest moments (besides the constant and nagging feeling that Puzo is taking the absurd codes of his creatures utterly seriously) tend to be the montage scenes that show the young gangster growing up: but Puzo cannot be blamed for this weakness, as it is a rare writer indeed who can write a blameless training montage. This is not quite a jewel in the rough. It cannot be accurately called a jewel, and nor is it completely buried in the rough. It is a good book, though not the best. And it has flaws, but has not been completely ruined by these flaws.

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