Can you hear me?
WINNER ENGLISH PEN AWARD
“Riveting and luminous.
1978. Ponte, a small community in Northern Italy: peaceful woods, discarded rubbish, a closed-down factory. An unbearably hot summer like many others, wilted flowers and trips to the waterfalls. Elia Furenti is sixteen, living in a secluded house with his parents, a life so unremarkable that even its moderate unhappiness has been accepted as normal. That is 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 corners of his mind.
A young boy is murdered, shaking the small community to its core. And a girl climbs into a van and vanishes in the deep, dark woods…
Cover photograph © Martina Hoogland Ivanow / Truck Archive
Elena Varvello's Can you hear me? is riveting and luminous. It's a gorgeous heart-rending novel that you want to finish in one sitting - and few readers will be able to resist the exquisite gravity of such temptation - but it's also a novel that you long to savour, to make last, to draw out because there won't be another one this rich, this compelling, this extraordinarily satisfying for a long, long time.
A taut, smart, viciously gripping noir about family and the destructive force of unconditional love. It took my breath away and kept me glued to the page until its heart-breaking end: a phenomenal achievement
Haunting, surreal, and deeply engaging, Elena Varvello's Can you hear me? is at once suspenseful and elegiac, as beautiful as it is horrifying, as Varvello takes us deep inside the mind and heart of 16-year-old Elia Furenti during his summer of change. Readers will devour this novel in one sitting as I did, then chew over it long after the book is done.
Elena Varvello has created a world of suspense à la Hitchcock: a 16-year-old boy tells his story and that of his tragic family... The ravine and the forest of the Piedmontese hills described in Can you hear me? are threatened by evil which colours every page of this novel and reaches the reader via a shattering, dry dialogue. The rapidly industrialised landscape in a provincial corner of northern Italy, containing woods, waterfalls but also discarded tins and other rubbish, speaks of the tragedy: all is normal in the microcosm of Can you hear me?, even intense unhappiness has been accepted as normality.
Elena Varvello is a skilled and able narrator; her strong prose belongs to a new vein that has sprung out of modern Italy: women writers revel in an imagination that used to belong to the male world but with an added dose of poetry that is altogether feminine.
An acutely perceptive account of adolescence, friendship and loss, this dark thriller is a must for your summer TBR piles.
From the start this novel is heady and you can feel the Italian heat in every sentence. Considering how dark and intense this novel gets it’s passionate and you find yourself relishing every chapter. Varvello’s writing is like a shadowy mix of King and Du Maurier, it’s part compelling noir and elegant coming -of-age story. Elia’s proof that the modern teenage experience is pretty much the same regardless of location. I was so rooted in the story, Elia’s confused emotional state and his father’s mental decline was fascinating. Also I must mention the translation of this novel is brilliant, when reading translated fiction is often noticeable when a translator loses the flow of the story but this doesn’t happen at all in this book… it just feel like Italy. This is going to be my book of the summer and potentially the year.’
Elena Varvello's Can You Hear Me? promises to be one of the publishing events of the year. From the moment I closed the manuscript, I've been foisting it upon my colleagues. It's rare for a book to spark such evangelical zeal in me but Varvello hit the spot. Combining the psychological insight of Ferrante with the pace of a thriller, what begins as a literary noir broadens out into a portrait of adolescence, of mental illness and of family. Alex Valente's taut translation left me breathless and confirms Can You Hear Me? as a triumphant debut for author and translator alike.’