Another one which slipped the rte net – for very understandable reasons. This is probably not the worst mystery I have ever read but I am pretty sure it is the one I have disliked most. Had I not been reviewing it I would probably not have lasted more than ten pages; as it was it took me ages because I simply could not manage more than a few pages at a time.

Andrea Canobbio – The Natural Disorder of Things (2008)

Claudio Fratta is a highly successful landscape gardener. One night he is sitting in his car in a car-park at a mini-mall when he witnesses a murder: a man is deliberately run down by a white van and then driven over by a small black car. Claudio pursues the car which then crashes. He pulls the woman driver out and takes her to hospital. Five months later she contacts him and asks him to design a garden for her and her husband. Claudio takes on the job, falls in love with the woman, becomes enmeshed in her life and that of her husband, reflects on the story of his own life, has his brother and nephews to stay at the weekend and occasionally thinks about the murder in a desultory way.

At one point in this book Claudio has a dream which may be some sort of reference to Dante’s Inferno; reading THE NATURAL DISORDER OF THINGS certainly felt like being consigned to one of the lower circles of hell. One caveat or defence might be entered – this is a translation, and it may be that in its original Italian Canobbio’s prose has qualities which are lost in English (or American ,as the translation is definitely into American English – I have used ‘mini-mall’ deliberately above as that is the description which appears on the page). However even were the prose of the highest quality it would not be enough to save this book.

Plot and story are clearly unimportant to Canobbio and he presumably views them as the province of lesser minds than his (though I doubt he could construct a decent one in a hundred years). So what do we have in their place? The book is told in the first person by Claudio who is given to interminable musings on his past, his gardening, his family. We gradually learn of his guilt about his younger brother’s death, his father’s business collapse, his elder brother’s marriage. He drives about in his car and makes observations about the landscape (this is presumably what one reviewer believes to be ‘existential’). Is the whole book a satire? The description of the garden which Claudio finally constructs is so absurd, over-blown and ridiculous that surely it must be intended as a joke against modern landscape gardening? Indeed is the whole book a kind of satire of a certain type of modern literary novel where nothing happens? If so it is a very dull joke which inflicts pain rather than pleasure on the reader.

It is rare indeed to find a book with no redeeming features but this is one. No plot, no story, no pace, no good characterisation, no humour, no decent social observation (we get a lot of social observation but it generally resolves, once the literary obfuscation is peeled away, into cliche), no fine prose (though here my one caveat regarding translation may be entered). Oh and almost no mystery at all! THE NATURAL DISORDER OF THINGS is pretentious twaddle.