Giorgio Scerbanenco ‘A Private Venus’

Back to the 1960’s and to my Italian lit targets for 2016, with this early writer of Italian noir and the first of his Milan quartet ‘A Private Venus’.imageThis book recently translated and re-edited in English was written in the ’60’s, is an interesting historical work, picking up the workings of noir fiction, a lone investigator, disgruntled or damaged or both working outside of the regular police framework to solve crimes he becomes emotionally entangled with.

In this case Duca Lamberti, a disbarred doctor who has just been released from prison after three years for practicing euthanasia on a begging patient is asked by a police officer he is friendly with (through his father who was a police officer) to help a rich industrial engineer with his son who has become a drunkard, as Duca suspects, the drinking is only a symptom and as the story moves on it leads us into a white slave trade story tied in with the mafia.

The 60’s view of society through the writer is however seriously dated, I’ll give a couple of many examples, firstly a woman, Livia Ussaro, who is a history and philosophy graduate and who is willing used as bate to catch the traffickers, describing herself as follows

‘Ever since I was sixteen, I’d wanted to experiment with prostitution,’ she said, she had stopped laughing, and that tone had returned, not bureaucratic, but professorial, she was expounding a theory, which was as good as any other, that much was obvious. ‘It wasn’t morbid curiosity. You may be able to tell from my physical type that I’m frigid. Not completely. The gynaecologist and the neurologist have established that when the physical and environmental conditions are right, I can be a perfectly normal woman. Unfortunately these conditions are difficult to produce, and in practice it’s as if I was frigid. Some people who aren’t very perceptive think I’m a lesbian, which I find quite amusing.’

And secondly when Livia is at a clandestine photographers waiting to have naked pictures taken for the traffickers to be able to entice people to pay for her, (yes pornography was only a cottage industry before the internet) and realises that the photographer must be homosexual

‘Livia took them and went into the bathroom. She undressed in a flash, without even closing the door. It was obvious the place had almost never been used, there were no toiletries, not even soap, just two brightly-coloured towels. As she left the bathroom she heard the young man swear, and from the way in which he uttered the swear word, a very vulgar one, she realised immediately, beyond any doubt, what he was: a homosexual, some ghastly new species. She thought that explained the colourlessness of his physical person, she thought it was like the monstrous colourlessness of the mutants described in science-fiction novels, exactly halfway through their mutation, when they still have the outer wrapping of humanity but their minds and nervous systems already belong to some ghastly new species.’

I won’t comment on the 60’s perspective, but many of the ideas peddled around this story are preposterous seen today and reduced the interest of what was already for me at best a mediocre story.

First published in Italian as Venere Privata by Garzanti SpA in 1966
Translated into English by Howard Curtis as A Private Venus and published by Hersilia Press in 2012

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