Giano and Clarissa are the image of Rome’s intellectual and cultural elite. Married for over twenty years, they are wealthy, childless, in love, and unfaithful. He is an architect and a professor of urban planning who wants to restore Rome’s cityscape, deconstructing modern buildings and entire neighborhoods from the city’s ugly economic boom. She is an attractive forty-something, who enjoys wandering the streets of Rome with no precise destination and an eye out for adventure. But the tenuous balance of their mutual infidelities and hypocrisies is challenged by events outside their control, and the dissolution of this modern marriage mirrors that of the city they both love and hate.
Written as a novel within a novel, a meta-fiction of exchange between the two characters’ points of view, this book is direct, humorous and full of surprises. In the drama of its protagonists, it captures an entire microcosm of modern Rome, a world that is deceptively calm and only apparently in order. As the characters criss-cross the historical center, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and the adjacent streets, Malerba exposes the crises that threaten to tear both them and us apart — from climate change to the absence of faith or the security of family, from an obsession with casual (even pathological) sex to the worship of a hyper-technological modernity.
Malerba also criss-crosses the porous boundary between fiction and reality. What it would take to restore their marriage — and their narratives — to their “imperfect balance” might be nothing less than an “architectural” re-ordering of superhuman capacities. And so, too, might that be the only salvation for the ravages of modern Rome.
Roman Ghosts (Fantasmi Romani), Malerba’s last novel, was published in 2006. As Rebecca West writes in her introduction to this volume, “To enter [Malerba’s world] in this fine translation is to discover just how engaging an author Luigi Malerba is.”