Giovanni Arpino ‘Scent of a woman’

‘Love isn’t polenta. Get married and then you’ll be happy. Better to get married than hang yourself,’ he continued mockingly. image‘You’re just like my cousin the aunt: she lives on proverbs. But she’s seventy years old. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?’

As Fausto says to Ciccio in this, ‘Scent of a Woman’ by Giovanni Arpino one of my Italian lit targets for 2016.

Vincenzo and Fausto have been blinded whilst demining an explosive device during an army exercise.

The narrator, a soldier on leave arrives at Fausto’s cousin’s house, sent by his commanding officer in the barracks, to accompany Fausto, who lives hidden away in the countryside near Turin, on a trip to Naples. Fausto is a ‘gentleman’, as people used to be in the mid 1900’s, his cousin says

‘Until the day of the accident I didn’t know him very well. He was always roaming around the world, boarding school, academy, the military.’

From the outset we learn that Fausto is overbearing and calls all of his assistants Ciccio, in an attempt to dominate them. An example is the episode where Fausto teaches Ciccio to walk with himself, a blind person, disciplining him with a cane. The two of them embark on their rail trip to Naples, via Rome as the narrator, Ciccio,  slowly gets to know Fausto, but can you really get to know Fausto, as he says to Ciccio:

‘You’re not a friend,’ he went on. ‘You don’t speak, you don’t sing, you don’t wag your tail.’

Is Fausto living normally, in control of his life, or just getting by from day to day, we see him take control when organising a suit for Ciccio who was still in his army uniform or when visiting his cousin, a priest, in Rome and sensing his unease, his doubts. But then he slowly spirals into extreme drunkeness and pushes Ciccio to look for women criticising with some irony the changes in modern Italy:

What a country this is! Completely laughable. Nothing works, so what do they come up with? Shutting down the bordellos. The country’s only real salutary institution.’

The story then moves into the true subject matter as they arrive in Naples and Fausto is reunited with Vincenzo, but apart from their accident these two seem to have nothing in common, as Young Sara who is in love with Fausto says to Ciccio

‘Oh, poor Vincenzo doesn’t count.’ She dismissed him with a grimace. ‘Haven’t you seen how he is, a nothing, a nobody? A good man, a saint, certainly, but what does it take for him to be one?’
‘They don’t even seem like friends.’
She laughed, a sharp burst, then said harshly, ‘Nobody can be his friend.’
‘I heard them talking, out on the terrace. I couldn’t understand. It sounded like some kind of pact.’

The pact: but events don’t go ahead as planned, and Sara’s devotion to Fausto plays out to the end. If you want to know how, read the book!

First Published in Italian as”Il Buio e il Miele” by La Scala in 1969
Translated into English by Anne Milano Appel and published as “Scent of a Woman” by Penguin in 2012

4 thoughts on “Giovanni Arpino ‘Scent of a woman’”

  1. I enjoyed his novel Une âme perdue. (not available in English, I think)

    This one sounds great too. I’m rarely disappointed with Italian literature. How is your Italian lit target doing? What’s your feedback of this journey into Italian lit?

    1. Hi Emma, thanks for looking in, first of all a few comments on my targets: I was too ambitious, and tend to dispersion so far on my targets English; 5/8 will probably finish year at 7/8, French; 7/9 will go for 8/9, German; 3/8 I will manage 8 but not from the list
      Which brings me to Italy:-

    2. For my Italian reading, I wanted to broaden my base:
      Baricco well of course I’d read Silk right back when it came out then last year got bogged down in Questa Storia read in French which I will go back to and so chose a recent book Tre volte all’alba, again found in French ‘Trois fois dès l’aube’ where I sense Baricco is enjoying himself in the writing and I in the reading:
      Milena Agus’s lyrical ‘While the Shark is sleeping with the lines blurred between real life and the story. I have already bought ‘From the land of the moon’ in French for next year:
      Sixties crime fiction writer Scerbanenco was the exception that proves the rule:
      Giorgio Arpino, well I have lived in Italy and here I could taste it:
      I threw in Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death’ just for fun, it still has me laughing out loud:
      In a nutshell, the year was fun but more digging to do

      1. An additional note on Arpino’s Un’anima persa. For Emma in Paris, if she hasn’t already watched, the video starring Catherine Deneuve and Vittorio Gassman is available at It varies from the book and is set in Venice.

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