With Il talento, published in 1997, Cesare De Marchi achieved notoriety in the field of literature. The year following its publication, the novel was in the running for six prizes, actually winning the two perhaps most prestigious ones, the Premio Campiello and the Premio Comisso. Il talento is written in the first person; in a brilliant racy style full of paradoxes, the narrator, Carlo Marozzi, tells the story of his own life in post-war Milan up to the present day. «I was born the fourth of three sons in a decorously indigent family», the much-quoted opening phrase of the novel.
It is Carlo who picks up the pen and conducts the literary game, a fact that should always be kept in mind, especially when the text speaks of his childhood trauma, of his «omission» by the family, of the blows he suffers, of the women he has had, and even of his own innocence.
Carlo gives the impression of exaggerating or playing down, wholly suppressing or inventing facts according to expediency. Sometimes he gets so embroiled in his own fictitious narration that he furnishes two distinct versions of one and the same episode. He is surely absolutely sincere in one case only: in the intense and affectionate bond with his «older-younger brother», the mongoloid Sandro.
Carlo Marozzi flunks out of high school. He goes to work, first as a packer in a department store, then as a corrector of galley proofs, a school caretaker, then a snail breeder. A sizeable win at the casino in Campione gives him a taste of the sweet life, but not for long, for then ill-fortune befalls him. After losing house and wife, he manages to eke out an existence working for a publishing house specialising in pornography and finishes up spending a few weeks in San Vittore prison (where he writes his own biography, or this self-same novel) until taken with a spontaneous fit of despair he swallows a vial of valium. But he immediately repents of his «incredible gesture» and with one last effort he goes to the telephone and calls the Red Cross ‒ as befits his character, in fact, he revokes his suicide.
On publication, critics spoke of a picaresque novel, but also of a novel of education. Hinrich Hudde introduced De Marchi’s reading in Munich with the following words: «Italian literature at last possesses a picaresque novel, the story of a big city-picaro. (…) Carlo Marozzi is a picaro, not the hero of a novel of education: this form of a novel, flourishing in German literature, is at best parodied here (as the author told me personally ‒ Italian critics speak, as I think, too often of a novel of education and not enough of a picaresque novel)». Georg Maag (Horizonte, 1999) explains the classification of this novel more cautiously: «Il talento fails to enter unconditionally into any of the categories established by literary critics. The principle of the picaro’s growing maturity is relativized by his inborn “ineptitude”, so that it would seem more appropriate to speak of an intersection of several literary traditions».
As to the style of this work let us quote once more Hinrich Hudde: «De Marchi's style has a captivating rhythm: the reader is transported by sentences that tend to extend in great arches. The novel is written on several levels in a rich language that is complex and often elegant, capable of high registers». Marzio Pieri («Zibaldone», 27, 1999) perceives a «subterranean lyrical vein in the sense of poetry that turns to ashes, but also delight when towers of ashes tumble, desolation (…) It is difficult to forget the slow agony of the mongoloid brother ‒ or of the massacre of snails driven by hunger. Terrible, piercing metaphors. While reading these pages, the product of an ironical, extremely alert intelligence full of quiet humour, the reader cannot help feeling unashamedly moved.» Mario Barenghi (Oltre il Novecento, Marcos y Marcos, Milano 1999, p. 25) describes De Marchi's narrative technique as "a lucid, philosophical scalpel". Finally (2013), Luigi Gussago devotes to this Novel his articulate and diversified essay Self-indulgent Isolation: A Contemporary Pícaro in Il Talento by Cesare De Marchi («Rivista di Studi Italiani», XXXI, n° 1, pp. 361-383): «The present study will centre on the reasons and the literary devices underlying various forms of this "reversal" strategy in Il talento, which, as will be shown, achieves at least a partial empowerment of the omitted/outsider by means of language itself».