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This article is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

Ginzburg's Virtues Tim Parks

Natalia Ginzburg is not the kind of writer who attracts lavish critical attention. Her short novels, neither experimental, epic, erotic nor polemic, will certainly satisfy no one's exegetical ambitions: the canvas is small and the workmanship delicate. Yet there is a consistency of quality and vision in Ginzburg's work, coupled with a harmony of method and meaning which are worthy of more than casual attention.

The consistency really is quite remarkable, the first novel (La strada che va in città, 1942) already bearing all the essential characteristics of her most recent work, La città e la casa, 1984. In the earlier work the story of a family group and friends is told in the first person with great simplicity and apparent casualness: love is mislaid, inertia is preferred to the risk of action and self-disclosure; the 'little virtues' as Ginzburg was later to call them (money-saving, security) win out remorselessly over the large (love, generosity, vocation), and, apart from the despairing drunkenness and death of the most attractive figure, the characters are left with their convenient if empty lives and just a vague sense of uneasiness. What is most characteristic, though, is the presentation of the individual as member of a group - family and friends - of which he cannot help but form a part and within which each member has power to give and to hurt, to be generous or selfish.

An understanding of her sense of the relationship between individual and group ...

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