The unmasking of a Tuscan paradise
Malocchio by Geerten Meijsing is a melancholy, malicious, and yet romantic novel about a writer called Erik Provenier who lives in a tumbledown casa colonica in Lucca, in an almost symbiotic relationship with his daughter Chiara. Meijsing himself lived for years on an estate near Lucca, until he was forced to leave following a violent altercation with his narrow-minded aristocratic landlord. Several of the novels which he published under the pseudonym Joyce & Co. were written there. The dilapidated house set among the breathtaking Tuscan hills also formed the backdrop for Meijsing’s elegant and erudite double novel Fickle and Inconstant and Always the Woman (1991).
Geerten Meijsing wrote Malocchio in an effort to shake off his yearning for the place, a yearning which continued to plague him even after he had moved to Syracuse in Sicily. The book was also a twenty-first birthday present for his daughter Iris, who had lived with her father in Lucca for several years. At this point the unsuspecting reader expects an enchanting rustic idyll. But this is not the latest in a series of sugary odes to Tuscany à la Frances Mayes. In fact, Malocchio is a conscious attempt to tarnish the image of Tuscany as a paradise on earth. It tells the darkly romantic tale of a lonely, tormented father with an army of lady friends and a daughter who appears to command the powers of darkness. Her evil eye - or malocchio - silences her father’s mistresses, and occasionally even its owner.
Malocchio is not only provocative and deeply personal, it is also a book of manners in reverse. Like Italian Neighbours and Italian Education by Tim Parks - an author greatly admired by Meijsing - it is a guidebook for northern gentlemen anxious to cut a bella figura down south. As Erik Provenier remarks in Malocchio, ‘You have to fake simplicity’ and with this dubious attitude, he becomes involved in hilariously Italian situations. These, together with Geerten Meijsing’s unfashionable advice on Tuscan etiquette, are couched in an impeccably baroque style.