The Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio De Maria, translated from the Italian by Ramon Glazov

This is the second Lovecraftesque book I’ve read this year. (The first was The House on the Borderland, see review here.) Both The Twenty Days of Turin and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland share a narrator’s P.O.V. and a godlike evil force that remains unexplained by the novel’s end.

In both books the narrator is basically reconstructing historical events long separated from the present day. In The Twenty Days of Turin our journalist narrator looks for documents and surviving witnesses to a mysterious series of massacres that took place over a twenty-day period when the citizens of Turin, Italy fell under a collective psychosis walking around the city in a trancelike state during the night to find scenes of violence on the streets in the morning. Some force or creature, maybe a god, is literally picking people up and using them as weapons to bash other people to death.

It’s pretty disturbing, if confusing.

I admit, I had a hard time figuring out exactly what was going on and then I had a hard time following the action. I not totally sure what was happening was really happening. Was it all in the narrator’s head? He seems to find physical evidence and eyewitness collaboration, but is what he’s telling us even real? It’s pretty hard to believe.

Some things in The Twenty Days of Turin I liked very much. Early in the story, before the massacres begin, the citizens are drawn to a new library where only handwritten books are stored. People are encouraged to donate written accounts of their own lives, to lay bare their souls listing their misdeeds and shortcomings in detail. The books are then loaned to anyone who’d like to read them. At first no names are given, so you could be walking around Turin, sitting next to someone on the train or in a restaurant, who has read your own account of your darkest secrets. Once the library becomes popular, readers can pay a fee to discover the identity of a particular book’s author. Even after people know their secrets will no longer be kept anonymous they continue to submit their stories.

I should point out that The Twenty Days of Turin was written years before internet blogging became a thing. This library really did make me think about this blog and the others I have kept. There are people in the world who have read accounts of my own life and accounts of my opinions, some things that I have never shared with people I know in “real” life. There have been a few times when people I’ve never met before have asked me about my events in my own life that I’ve only posted about online. It’s a strange way to feel a “how did you know that” sensation.

This made reading The Twenty Days of Turin a very uneasy experience.

The second thing I liked was they way the authors invoked the empty streets of a classic Italian city much the way Thomas Mann did in A Death in Venice and Nicholas Roeg did in his movie Don’t Look Now. Both of those stores take place in Venice which has a very spooky place before it became overrun with tourists like it is now. Turin after dark, at least for the twenty days described, is a very uneasy place.

The final thing is a scene towards the end of the book after the twenty days are over. The narrator stumbles upon a children’s puppet show. The puppets recreating the massacres in a Punch and Judy style. The audience of children and adults are laughing, enjoying themselves while the puppets are violently beaten to death. Life goes on, I guess.

Not something I was expecting.

In the end, while there are things I admire about The Twenty Days of Turin, I don’t know if I liked it or not, nor if I can recommend it. It’s a strange book, disturbing in ways a horror genre novel should be. There are moments of brilliance. But I’m not sure I can say it all comes together to earn a positive recommendation.

Read at your own risk, I suppose.

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