Eco-docu-scifi novel: a review

Cedimenti-Courtesy-of-Edizioni-Ambiente_

Francesca Vesco, Cedimenti. Milano: Edizioni Ambiente, 2011.

What happens, when in a nation which allows illegal house/hotel construction to occur, you find an unauthorized building in your own back-yard obstructing your view of the Mediterranean? This is the situation facing the protagonist of the novel under review, Martina, who has inherited a piece of property in Sicily from her grandfather, the marquis Ignazio Scaduto. Surely, her first reaction must be to sell the property – but selling it would mean giving it away cheaply to the mafioso who controls the construction business. The second option is to fight the illegal construction lawfully: but the lawyer she consults gently suggests to her not to follow this line of action, especially since her grandfather has attempted to have the building demolished using legal means – clearly unsuccessfully. The third way out could be to use illegal means to get rid of the illicit eyesore built on protected land: put an explosive device around the structure and blow it up: this is in fact what her new-found friend, the local journalist and eco-fighter Giuliano Chimenti, spurs her on to consider. (If a reader anticipates some type of ideological/political/literary/emotional connection to Brigate Rosse, this connection is not forthcoming, although mentions of Greenpeace tactics are present.) The rest of the novel follows Martina as she wholeheartedly adopts the illegal tactic to get rid of the structure. The strategy she chooses rests on her obtaining cement-eating microbes (a not so scifi turn, and the novel ends in 2023), placing them in strategic locations and puff! The structure collapses, hence, cedimento (i.e. “caving in”). This illegal action results in the protagonist’s not very long internal fight whether to confess to the authorities who do not even come close to solving the collapses of three structures. She and her beau confess, spend time in prison, and start a new life together.
But in Italian, cedimento has other meanings as well, such as : “giving in”, “yielding”, “surrendering”, “submitting”, “sinking” – and the novel’s title is in the plural, suggesting other collapses as well.
The other givings–in the characters experience reflect purely human surrenderings; to passions: love for one, physical attraction, spur-of-the moment decision-making, guilt, sense of duty, sense of right and wrong. Yet another submitting is of the chance type: giving in because of being at the right place, with the right people and things at the right time. The descriptions of these tribulations receive an unusually participating treatment, one could almost say by virtue of a “feminine sensibility”.
Sadness pervades the language of the novel, notwithstanding its happy ending including marriage, children, and beautiful unobstructed vistas. The melancholy may reflect the gloomy fact that laws do not actually trump unreasonable political choices, or illegal behaviours, or violent solutions.
The novel has been published by a publishing house specializing in eco-fiction, but it can also be subsumed under the heading “science fiction”. Moreover, Cedimenti also has the feel of literary docu-fiction or creative non-fiction. It cites legal rules and regulations, it describes the waste and destruction of natural beauty at the hands of unscrupulous builders and offers one solution to seemingly impossible legal solutions to do away with illicit building.
Some perplexities remain after the last page of the book has been turned. It is not clear, within the content of the novel, what happens to the mafiosi and the collusive politicians, i.e. the real culprits of the ecological ruin. If the book is intimating that they keep on acting as usual, then the example the protagonist goes through is for naught, or to be imitated anytime an illegal structure is around. The other unanswered question regards the cement-eating microbes: they have been given food, and therefore it would be logical to assume that their colonies will grow and attack other cement structures, making a total collapse of all the buildings, not only of the illegally-constructed ones (of course, the environmental, climatic and biological conditions must be right for this to happen). The third point has to do with the third-last section of the book, which is entitled “Suggestioni e commenti”. First of all, suggestion in Italian means “influence”, “fascination” – but clearly it is used here as an Anglicism meaning “suggestions” – nevertheless, the few pages written by the likes of Nanni Balestrini and Umberto Eco, as well as Libero Mancuso, do not proffer any suggestions and the comments are not really necessary because they do not add or otherwise explain the content of the novel – the book stands very well on its own.
All in all, this novel offers good reading times, and makes the reader aware of the complex intertwining of human, ecological, legal problems which a nation such as Italy must confront at every moment.

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