This first global English study of Natalia Ginzburg responds to a great need among the general public as well as scholars and teachers of Italian women's literature, who can now read most of Ginzburg's fiction in translation but need a key to interpret it. Alan Bullock's Natalia Ginzburg finally does justice to an author, who has so far been treated piecemeal mainly in newspaper or journal articles. Bullock approaches the subject in a scholarly manner, after an ample research of a great variety of Italian and foreign sources. He lets Ginzburg's life and art speak for themselves, allowing the author to spring to life like the heroines of her many stories. Furthermore, he writes in the steady, unhurried pace of Victorian biographers, making the book read like a novel.
In the first chapter "Writing as a Vocation: Life and Work" Alan Bullock follows the writer through her crises and awakenings, never losing sight of the important link between her life and artistic endeavor. Thus we are led through the dramatic stages of Ginzburg's vocation as she strives to find her voice and style. We see the artistic germs erupt and crystallize to become the author's overriding themes: melancholy and humor, a mixture of detachment and compassion, of memory and invention. From Casa al mare to Road to the City we follow Ginzburg's itinerary from coldness and bitterness to participation and understanding, from the personal to the universal. Likewise, every subsequent work is linked to the creative process which engendered it, the often long gaps between works are explained in a perceptive way which brings us much closer to this woman writer and her very feminine anxiety of "authorship." According to Bullock, Ginzburg's great merits are her clarity and her deceptive simplicity which hide her hate of rhetoric and empty erudition, and her commitment to writing in an accessible way. He aptly distinguishes between superficiality and simplicity. He passes one of his most severe criticisms on The Manzoni Family, a laborious but cold saga, which he contrasts to Family Sayings, written under "the white heat of inspiration." In carefully analyzing her theater, Bullock discovers the dramatic tension below the trivia on the surface and compares it to Beckett for its mixture of humor and despair.
The three central chapters are dedicated to female alienation as the lens through which Ginzburg looks at the human condition. Alienation is treated in reference to the various ages of women's development. By devoting such a major portion of the book to the problems that women encounter to survive in a men's world, Bullock offers a perceptive criticism of the female condition in general and of the specific situation in Italy during and immediately after Fascism. The last chapter "Men and Mice: Winners and Losers in the Battle of the Sexes" shows women and men as equally vulnerable and questions basic assumptions about women's behavior.
My only criticism of this book is its thematic approach, which involves the detailed analysis of the same works in every chapter. This repetitiveness can cause a sense of fatigue. This is, however, amply compensated for by the in-depth review of each work and its placement in the entire body of Ginzburg's literary production. [End Page 528]