As a complete bookworm, I get emails from Waterstones every week with all the latest recommendations. As soon as I read about Can you hear me? by Elena Varvello, I knew I needed to read it. Within days of reading that email, I’d bought the book and finished it.
Can you hear me? is described as a thriller, but it’s also a very atmospheric coming-of-age story. Translated from Italian, like many translated novels, it seems to ooze quality.
It is 1978 and Elia Furenti is 16. A little boy has been murdered. And, during an unbearably hot summer, Elia’s father starts to behave strangely. Laid off from the factory where he used to work, he becomes convinced of a conspiracy to get rid of him.
To escape the atmosphere at home, Elia makes friends with the new boy in town. His mother just happens to be Anna, a girl who’d left town in disgrace, who Elia’s parents definitely don’t want him mixing with.
Then a girl climbs into a van and disappears into the woods.
Told from the point of view of Elia, based partly on his memories and partly on what he thinks must have happened, this is a moving and addictive read. As thrillers go, it’s pretty tame, but also quite dark as Elia wonders just how damaged his father really is.
Can you hear me? is Elena Varvello’s first novel to be translated into English. If this is anything to go by, I doubt it will be her last. It’s a short book with big writing, which usually makes me feel a bit cheated, but it comes highly recommended.