Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here http://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/
Terry has been reading Walls Of Silence by Helen Pryke
WALLS OF SILENCE by Helen Pryke
3.5 out of 5 stars
I was not sure how to review this book at first, because it’s a strange one; my opinion of it varied so much, all the way through. It’s a long novella (or a very short novel – I am sure it is no longer than 50K words, maximum).
Warning: this review includes plot spoilers.
Set in northern Italy, the story opens with Pietro, heartbroken over the loss of his wife, Maria, who has just died from cancer. It then goes back to Maria’s childhood in Sicily, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Maria lived in a small village, where life rolled by at the slow pace of fifty years before, and the Roman Catholic church and the family were the main focus. I adored every word of this part; it’s beautifully written, and I felt so sad when Maria’s mother died, even though I’d met her only briefly. Yes, the characterisation is that good. The atmosphere of the time is simply yet vividly portrayed, and I was completely engrossed in the story.
Maria’s childhood takes a darker turn when her father remarries, and her ‘uncle’ Salvo comes to live with them. Her account of the abuse she suffered is raw, poignant and utterly believable, and I loved that this part of the book showed not only the reasons for her silence, but also the way in which the simple, ill-educated population were manipulated by the rigours of formal Catholicism. Stunningly good. At this point I was going to give the book 5*, which is not a rating I give often.
Skipping forward, a marriage is arranged between Maria and Vincenzo, when she is sixteen and he is in his late twenties. They go to live in Milan, and the marriage is difficult, interspersed with brief moments of happiness. They live in a squalid apartment, Vinny struggles with the prejudices of the northern Italians, he gambles, drinks, and eventually abuses her physically. I felt this part was a little rushed, and I was sometimes a bit ‘hmm’ about Maria’s reactions, but I was still enjoying it. Eventually, Vinny’s gambling spirals out of control, and he offers Maria up as a final wager in desperation to recoup his losses. He loses, and Maria has to leave the house with her new protector, Matteo.
It’s now that the book trails off. Maria is forced into prostitution. Another street girl gives her a tablet ‘to take the edge off’, which turns out to be LSD. Girls in that situation are usually given (or choose to take) heroin or cocaine (or possibly dexedrine, in the 1960s), which give the illusion of wellbeing, not LSD, which is a powerful hallucinogenic and produces a ‘trip’, not the sort of drug that would be offered to ‘take the edge’ off anything; I suspected that Ms Pryke knew little about her subject at this point. After a terrible few months, Maria meets Pietro, a young, professional man who falls instantly in love with her during their brief afternoon/early evening meetings. Despite the danger involved with going up against Italian gangsters and the fact that he hardly knows her, Pietro hatches a plan to aid her escape, which involves them faking their own deaths and changing their identities. For some reason I couldn’t fathom, his parents (who, in the staid Italian 1960s, are perfectly okay with him potentially ruining his life for the sake of a prostitute he hardly knows) agree to orchestrate this preposterous plan. I am afraid I could no longer suspend my disbelief at this point; I thought of at least three more convincing ways to end the Matteo section even as I was reading it.
The book is wrapped up quickly, with details about Pietro and Maria’s happy new life, her return to Sicily and reunion with her family. Again, it was over too soon. The reunion with Guisy should have been hugely emotional, but it felt raced through, with all information given about the people of Maria’s childhood like a quick report.
I am giving this book 3.5* but rounding it up to 4* on Amazon because the beginning was so very, very good, and because Ms Pryke can certainly write; I read it in one day and looked forward to getting back to it each time. The main problem is that for the depth of plot, it needs to be a novel the reader can become immersed in emotionally, not a short catalogue of disastrous events. Had the second part, with Vinny, been extended, and the prostitution plot been less outlandish, it could have been a terrific book. Sometimes, less is more; this author is talented enough not to need car chases and faked deaths. The atmosphere of Sicily, the stark contrast between the 1960s and the 21st century, the characterisation and her simple knack of writing good sentences that keep the reader wanting to turn the pages, are enough. And I’d definitely read something else by her.
Living in the mountains of Sicily, Maria has the perfect childhood until the tragic accident that changes her life forever. The events that follow will take her away from her home town to the streets of Milan, in an ever-increasing spiral of abuse and deception. Will she ever be able to trust anyone ever again? Set in turbulent 1960s Italy, Walls of Silence is the story of a girl who must find the courage and strength to survive her family’s betrayal and the prejudices of her country.
Part of the proceeds from this book will go to a women’s centre in the UK.
About the author
26 years later, I now work as a translator, from Italian to English. It’s a job I love, especially when I got the chance to translate a children’s book and screenplay written by an Italian author. The screenplay is now winning awards at American film festivals!
I have always written short stories and books from an early age – I still have a short story I wrote when I was 10 that was published in the school magazine!
I love reading – I’ll read almost anything! I tend to spend most of my free time relaxing with my husband and two sons, and eating delicious Italian food!
The only thing I don’t like about Italy is the climate – cold and damp in the winter, hot and humid in the summer. With infestations of mosquitoes in the summer and stink bugs in the autumn…
but all in all, it’s a great place to live.