Natalia Ginzburg – The Dry Heart (1947)

A compact book, brilliantly subdued in its anger.

Natalia Ginzburg – The Dry Heart (1947)

May 2023 • Fiction

‘Tell me the truth, I said’.

‘What truth?’ he echoed. He was making a rapid sketch in his notebook and now he showed me what it was: a long, long train with a big cloud of black smoke swirling over it and himself leaning out of a window to wave a handkerchief.

I shot him between the eyes.

This is how The Dry Heart opens, and for the next one hundred and seven pages, Natalia Ginzburg calmly excavates the cause of death, as its unnamed and plainspoken female narrator outlines the life she lived with an older man named Alberto.

She (the narrator) is a lonely woman living in a boarding house. When she meets Alberto, they go on walks and she brings him chocolate. She tells him about herself, and his eyes sparkle when he looks at her. She adores them, his eyes, but little else, yet falls in love, she thinks, although he never tells her about himself. They marry, and they have a child, but Alberto tires quickly of their life together.

“But for a long time already I had known that sooner or later I should do something of the sort.”

The recounting of her regrettable relationship with Alberto—the deception, the infidelity, the unfulfilling marriage, and the eventual murder—reads like a confession told over several evenings, to several people, a slightly different version presented each time she revisits its fatal culmination, as if reciting the sequence of events from memory and not quite repeating them the same during every retelling.

First published in 1947, this novella's tone is modern, its pace is swift, and its style is understated, which caught me off-guard but, if you're familiar with Ginzburg's writing, should come as no surprise.

“I took the revolver out of his desk drawer and shot him between the eyes.” A compact book, brilliantly subdued in its anger, about a fierce woman who wrestles back control of her life.

The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg
Translated from Italian by Frances Frenaye
Originally published in 1947
Republished by Daunt Books in 2021

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Book #6 • May 2023