Title: Black Out
Author: Gianluca Morizzi
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press [original publication 2004, English translation 2008]
Length: 251 pages
The premise of the book was intriguing to me. Being a little claustrophobic the idea of just being in an elevator longer than a few minutes sounds like hell, let alone if you add the heat of a southern Italian summer, many hours of being trapped and a crazed killer to the mix. However this was one of those books that was probably better as a pitch than as a wholly realised book. Black Out opens with a passage depicting the hideous torture of a man and if I hadn’t paid hard-earned cash for this one I might not have read further. Lacking context, the scene felt like the literary equivalent of a car chase in an action movie and you either enjoy that kind of thing or you don’t (I’ll let you guess my feelings).
The torture is perpetrated by a man called Aldo Ferro and after meeting him we’re introduced to Claudia a waitress who hates her job and a student named Tomas who has met the love of his life and is planning to run away to Amsterdam with her. All three of these strangers meet by chance in the lobby of an apartment building in Bologna, Italy on the afternoon of a holiday weekend. The elevator they all get into breaks down between the 11th and 12th floors of the building and the ten hours that follow are…well…miserable for all.
I liked one thing about this book: the characters of Claudia and Tomas were credible and quickly established them both as people that I hoped would somehow not fall victim to the evil in their midst.
But there was much not to like. I found it implausible that the kind of angry, perpetually sweaty man as Aldo was depicted would be able to seduce as many complete strangers as he did (both for killing and for casual sex) so I never really ‘bought’ him as a character. Just as well I guess because he’s the most disgusting character I’ve come across in a long time. Almost every line of dialogue he sprouted (either outwardly or in his head) involved some kind of pejorative statement about women and when he wasn’t making repugnant comments he was committing or imagining pointless, excruciatingly described violence.
The book read more like a B-grade screen play than a novel and I’m not surprised to see that it was made into a horror flic. Given the quality of the source material I’m even less surprised to learn the movie went straight to DVD release. There’s little depth to the story and there’s never much suspense about what will happen in the elevator (you always know it’s going to involve blood and violence). The twist at the end is simply ridiculous and, literally, had me throwing the book at the wall. The writing itself is woeful and I don’t think it’s the translator’s fault. It’s full of clichés (there are only so many ways to describe rape and torture I suppose) and the startlingly large number of similes are off-putting. For example, during the first hour the three are trapped (a mere few pages of book space) they are described as alert as wolves, like wasps in an upturned glass, like worms in a jar and one is sweating like a pig with its throat cut. This took me out of the story as I tried to imagine some kind of hybrid wolf/worm/wasp/pig creature and ponder why a pig with a cut throat would sweat as well as bleed. I’m fairly sure that’s not the reaction the author was going for.
All I got out of this book was several restless nights and the idea that Mr Morozzi doesn’t think much of his country. Or humanity. As far as recommendations go: if people verbally and physically abusing each other is your thing and you have a strong stomach then have at it. Otherwise read anything else.
My rating: 1/5
Other reviewers see the book differently to me so for another perspective try the review by Helen at It’s Criminal