Can You Hear Me by Elena Varvello




In the August of 1978, the summer I met Anna Trabuio, my father took a girl into the woods…

I was sixteen 

He had been gone a long time already, but that was it – not even a year after he lost his job and that boy disappeared – that was when everything broke.

1978 Ponte, a small community in Northern Italy. An unbearably hot summer like may others.

Elia Furenti is sixteen, living an unremarkable life of moderate unhappiness, until the day the beautiful, damaged Anna returns to Ponte and firmly propels Elia to the edge of adulthood.

But then everything starts to unravel.

Elia’s father, Ettore, is let go from his job and loses himself in the darkest corns of his mind.

A young boy is murdered.

And a girl climbs into a van and vanishes in the deep, dark woods…

So, when I was offered the opportunity to read and review this psychological thriller, written by Elena Varvello, and translated from the original Italian by Alex ValenteI I was delighted, but had one reservation .  I am not really a fan of translated fiction, which I often find rather stilted.  However, this novel has won a prize; winner of the English Pen Award…and it shows.  ‘Can You Hear Me’ flows beautifully, proving that it isn’t all about the author, the quality of translation is paramount too, so an acknowledgement of  gratitude her to Alex Valente.

This novel is beautifully written, yet quite simple in its use of language.  We meet Elia, a 16 year old boy, who lives with his parents, in the summer of 1978.  It is a novel of several themes; mental illness, love, loss, hope, despair, and a deeply woven seam of menace and fear, generated by the parts of the novel fed to us via a nameless narrator.  In a way, I am reminded of the seminal ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.  That is not to say this is a book about racism, but rather, it is a story of an innocent from a small town, living through turmoil and upheaval… and being changed by that.

I am being pretty vague about the storyline, mainly because I really don’t want to spoil it.  An outline may help though: our young, male narrator, living with his parents, appears to have enjoyed a ‘normal’  childhood, which ends abruptly with the closure of the factory which had employed his father.  The father spirls into depression and despair, as his wife does her best to provide a ‘normal’ life for the three of them.  This proves impossible, with the disappearance of a young girl, following her lift off Elia’s father, as well as the murder of a young boy.

This is a short novel, but judicious use of language leaves the reader very satisfied.  It is a novel of opposites: love and hate, hope and despair, joy and sorrow, the past and the present, the teenage narrator and the anonymous menace, economy of words and eloquence of language, easy to read, hard to forget.  Try it, you won’t regret it.  Most years this would be my novel of the year, but Eleanor Oliphant beat Elia to it.


5 stars. Tracey Banting.

I am a retired teacher, in my mid 50’s, with three adult sons and an adorable granddaughter. I retired early on health grounds (I have MS) and spend much of my unexpected, yet precious, spare time reading.  My literature of choice is usually the detective novel, with many forays into the world of the psychological thrillers.  I do enjoy the occasional brush with the more “literary’ sort of novel too.  Recent examples have included Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, all of Kate Atkinson’s ‘Jackson Brodie’ novels and The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase.  However my tip for Novel of the Year is definitely the wonderfully written and delightful Eleanor Oliphant novel; beautifully written, hugely entertaining and moving.what’s not to love.


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Hi, I am an avid reader and have been all my life. I put it down to being an only child and having a teacher for a mum. The idea of this blog is to share my passion for reading and review new and upcoming books as well as those that may have been out for several years. I also review on Twitter @Bookliterat

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