The Boetti Children
Original title: Les Enfants Boetti
A young man pitches up in Rome with no particular plan in mind other than to immerse his sense in the city around him. He answers a classified ad for an apartment being let out by one Ada Boetti, who gives him free run of the place during her sporadic and mysterious absences. Ada has a habit of reappearing at night without any notice, and a one-way dialogue unfolds between them: she speaks and he listens, immersing himself body and soul in the childhood memories that she shares with him.
It is immediately clear that Ada was one half of an inseparable double act with her younger brother Angelo—”born to live little or to live apart”—in the Garbatella neighborhood of Rome in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a luminous childhood, but lived in the shadow of their photogenic parents, whose lives were both happy and tragic: Patti, the kind and crippled hairdresser, and Sandro, the dreamer and repairer of bicycles. There is also the significant but elusive figure of Lou Tamma, the free-spirited artist friend with the wild imagination who is the silent witness to the death of Sandro in his little workshop…
But this double act broke up several years ago: Angelo went to live in London where, without much conviction but without bitterness either, he has become a pizza chef at a Bloomsbury restaurant called Vecchia Italia. Willingly submerging himself in these memories, the narrator is overcome with a powerful fascination that takes him from Naples to London and soon to a very concrete encounter with Ada’s memories as he makes the acquaintance of Angelo and seeks out Lou Tamma…
Les Enfants Boetti thus becomes an exploration of the folds of a memory that has literally been borrowed—an attempt to fill in the blanks that acts like its own metaphor as stories of a rare and thrilling imaginative richness are embedded one within another and recounted with a gentleness and fluency that belies their hard-edged and sometimes violent content. Although his subject is (the) elusive, Pierre Testard’s immediately distinctive sensitivity and the precision of his writing are effective artistic tools, and as he guides his character—and the reader—through this treacherous game of smoke and mirrors triggered by the memories of another person, the charm of this debut novel works its subtle but irresistible magic.