Giuseppe Conte and Angelina Jolie-Lips and Prose

Giuseppe Conte~Italy

However, in that same period there began to stir in him the first signs of love that, different from the first, few if any would have experienced.  As a boy, Umber began to isolate the characters from the pages of his books and to fantasize about them, dream of them, spend hours and hours of his day with them.  Then he just carried on with it.  It was his secret, his incurable disease.  The young Princess Nausicaa of the Odyssey captured his imagination.  As if Homer’s verses were not enough, in his folly Umber added little touches of color to the character.  He imagined her hairstyle, gait, garments, and more:  her lips , hands, breasts, thighs.

Giuseppe Conte’s Angelina’s Lips is the type of quirky, engaging read that leaves you wondering what exactly you’ve just read, how to describe it and fumbling for the exact reasons to explain why you liked it so much.  Having read it a few days ago, it still lingers in my mind mostly because of it’s lyrical prose and a strange ethereal quality that feels grounded.  That may not seem possible, but because Conte begins the story with a rather prosaic tone – the daily life and history of an older professor Umber Umberto – instantly we a ensconced in the mind of this narrator.  With a clever wink to Nabokov’s classic character, Humber Humbert, Umber is a man living alone in Laguna Beach who just so happens to fall in love with character’s in books.  “With no limits to his audacity and his longing,” Umber falls for men and women who inhabit the pages of books.  As a comparative literature professor, his list of loves is long.  Jennifer Lopez, Diane Keaton (whom he sees often walking on the beach) and Angelina Jolie’s lips are the only real women that garner a slight distraction from his love affairs in the works of literature. 

At a time in his life when mortality figures prominently in his musings, he regrets that he will not be able to fall in love with characters in books that are published after he dies.  Enter Jamshid Kloster, a researcher in physics who “reasoned more like a Zoroastrian sorcerer, or an Indian shaman than like a researcher at a university,” a man of about the same age who promises that he can help Umber experience novels of the future.  This is also where Conte’s own special blend of science fiction and magical realism take over.  Spiced with mythology and horror elements, Jamshid and Umber travel together into the libraries of the future to experience what literature has in store for humanity and to find, if only fleetingly, a woman for Umber to love.  Journeying through centuries in ever increasing futuristic libraries, Umber reads the synopses of novels.  Because Conte presents each synopsis to the reader, we sense his commentary on current society including war, religion and political corruption.

It seems with all this happening that it would be a longer book.  But Conte is so adept at transporting and choosing the right details to set tone and atmosphere, that this book is more of a novelette.  This is the first work of Conte’s that I have read and am looking forward to exploring more of his work.  He is a poet as well which is evident in his imagery and prose.  Not only do I hope that more American readers will discover him, I also hope that he continues experimenting with his own craft.  Kudos to Guernica for publishing this and for publishing it as a bilingual edition.  An imaginative little gem that can be read over the lunch hour and also contains one of the best descriptions of Angelina Jolie’s face to date.  An interesting commentary on the evolution of beauty and technology.  Bravissimo.

Angelina’s Lips
By Giuseppe Conte
Translated by Robert Buranello
Guernica Editions
Paperback, 120 pp.
ISBN: 9781550713374

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