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This review is taken from PN Review 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.

HER VOCATION Natalia Ginzburg, The Little Virtues (Carcanet) £6.95

The belated appearance in English of Natalia Ginzburg's collection of prose pieces The Little Virtues (first published in 1962) comes less than a year after the publication in Italy of her most recent novel, La città e la casa. Re-reading the earlier work and discovering the new, one is struck by Ginzburg's extraordinary consistency across so many years, a consistency of theme, of approach and above all, of charm and quality. There is the same beautifully limpid prose, the same exquisite, lightly ironic power of observation, the same moral commitment and passion.

All Ginzburg's novels, as likewise the sparkling biography of her own family and again the study of Manzoni's family, could be described as vehicles for savouring and appreciating character - not the interiorized, psychologically analysed individual of so much modern literature, but character as it operates within a group, as it emerges in the gestures, dialogue and action of everyday. Asked about this absence of psychological analysis and interiorization, Ginzburg explains modestly that she 'uses the tools she knows best': reporting striking physical details, dress styles, repeated gestures and phrases, an intimacy can quickly be created and this is ground she can feel secure on; a psychological approach on the other hand would seem more flimsy, and, most of all, would not convey our experience of what it is to be with people, which is that we live with them in great intimacy while at the same time they remain a mystery. The lifted eyebrow, ...


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