Although this novel was published by Feltrinelli in April 2006, the author had already been thinking about it straight after publication of Il talento in 1997. For long years, while he resumed work on & completed the lengthy transcript of Una crociera, & while still working on the Letters of Obscure Men, De Marchi narrowed the outline of this new plot, plunging into the extensive preparatory reading entailed. And indeed it was to be a novel, not a historical novel, a definition that the author seems to mistrust, but one in a (German) historical setting. This setting is the small Principality of Hohenlohe at the end of the 18th century not far from the border of what was then the Duchy of Württemberg. After a prologue written in a traditional style, relating the medieval legend of the construction of a church in the village of Kirchensall, the novel focuses on a family of peasants, among whom little Abel grows up. Abel is feeble and unfitted for hard labour in the fields, but is endowed with unusual sensitivity & intelligence. The narrow world around him gradually opens up to him, & we are impressed by the author's skill in portraying the events through the eyes of this little fictional figure.
The novel becomes more complex with the arrival of the second main figure, the protestant minister Rupprecht Radebach. The latter, who at first fears that Abel could be suffering from the widespread debility he has observed among «the undernourished offspring of poor families», is soon convinced of the contrary, & from then on he makes it his life's mission to secure a better future for the boy.
Radebach, the key figure in the novel, has neither lived in the village all his life, nor always been a protestant. He abandoned a brilliant career in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church & nine years of life in Rome when he suddenly turned his back on that city after a love affair & his conversion, which represent a sort of novel within the novel (chapters 4-6.) The actual plot begins when Radebach asks Abel's parents to allow him to give the boy private tuition outside school. And so in spite of its material seclusion the little rectory study becomes an astonishing observatory of the world. Fables & popular literature, his first novels, his first poems, Latin & Italian, all pass through Abel's eyes & brain. Moreover, the afternoon lessons & conversations with his teacher Radebach touch on the great cultures & religions, & in particular on the «epidemics of cruelty» of European history - what Abel later on in a poetic attempt is to term «la furia del mondo», the fury of the world. Almost as a counterpoint to the evocation of these cruelties, the author dwells more & more upon the peasant life of the time, with its struggle for material survival, its personal disasters and natural catastrophes.
One is aware of the author's need to retell the most appalling events, both collective such as wars and individual like the fate of Giordano Bruno or Jud Süss, as if he wished to insist that without recollection of the errors & horrors of the past there can be no progress.
Horror intrudes into Abel's family too & overwhelms not only several of the secondary figures but also the two main figures. Between the lines, however, we do on occasion read something akin to trust in the (possible) goodness of Man as expressed in love, poetry & music - one memorable page of the novel is dedicated to a Bach fugue - & also in a religious sentiment in which the non-religious author apparently sees one strategy, perhaps the most significant strategy, for humans to explain & to bear their own suffering.
In this novel the author also has recourse to what now seems to be his most personal stylistic characteristic, to free indirect speech. But the free indirect speech jumps back & forth between the perspectives of each of the two main characters, so that the whole story is seen & told through the eyes & thoughts of Abel & of Rupprecht. The sentence takes on in turn the broken rhythm of angst, the circular rhythm of obsession, the relaxed rhythm of serenity. In comparison to earlier works, the style seems to gain simplicity & conciseness, the message becomes more direct, the adjectives are used soberly & the total impression is more dramatic. Only here & there does the free indirect speech give way to various other narrative forms. Apart from the prologue (as mentioned above) we find Radebach's letters or fragments of letters, which show the author's facility in reproducing the speech of the 18th century, & dialogues whose language is cut to fit the social milieu, as in the delightful scenes of schoolboys in chapters 20 & 21 when Abel is admitted to the grammar school in Öhringen shortly before the tragic end of the narration.
In «Il Giornale» of 30.05.2006 Fabiano Ottaviano calls La furia del mondo «the most important book of the literary season.»