What is this about?: This is about four friends who return to their home town in Southern Italy to maintain their Pact — their promise to always return home on a particular day no matter where they are. Only this time, they find their friend Art is missing.
What else is this about?: It’s about evocative writing describing life in a small town in Southern Italy — the good and the bad. It’s about that writing being applied to a friendship that is evolving in ways the friends might not like, but everyone has to grown up some time.
Four old school friends have a pact: to meet up every year in the small town in Puglia they grew up in. Art, the charismatic leader of the group and creator of the pact, insists that the agreement must remain unshakable and enduring. But this year, he never shows up.
A visit to his house increases the friends’ worry; Art is farming marijuana. In Southern Italy doing that kind of thing can be very dangerous. They can’t go to the Carabinieri so must make enquiries of their own. This is how they come across the rumours about Art; bizarre and unbelievable rumours that he miraculously cured the local mafia boss’s daughter of terminal leukaemia. And among the chaos of his house, they find a document written by Art, The Book of Hidden Things, that promises to reveal dark secrets and wonders beyond anything previously known.
The Book of Hidden Things is so hard to describe, so apologies up front if this sounds garbled. It’s one of those books where I want to talk about the plot, and the characterisation and the four friends and yet I can’t seem to be able to make my brain sit still on one because I think there’s so much going on with all three, but to tell too much would be to spoil the book.
The story begins with three friends: Tony, Fabio and Mauro meeting at their favourite table at a restaurant in their home town on a certain day because of a Pact they had with Art, the fourth in their group. Except, on this day, they discover Art has disappeared.
From there the three set about trying to investigate what happened to their friend, who once before disappeared when they were kids, and came back claiming he’d run away. The book also delves into the past, chronicalling what happened all those years ago, and what their friendship was like.
It’s during their investigation into Art’s life in their home town that they discover he was writing a book called The Book of Hidden Things — and the book shares a few chapters of that with readers. That, coupled with the insane rumours they find out about him …. well here’s where it gets interesting — what’s true and what’s not? (this is where the magical realism comes in)
The plot in this book is Art: finding Art, and understanding what’s become of their friend. But thanks to some wonderful characterisation and evocative writing, the author brings this complex threesome to life and makes it more character-focused than I thought — so much so I actually forgot about the magical realism aspect, and it left me wondering where did that come from when it did appear.
Tony, Mauro and Fabio are three men who are trying to hold on to their youth I feel, and in ugly sorts of ways. I’m not entirely sure I like any of these three men, who are so wrapped up in the boys they used to be, they can’t actually see what they have in the present. Coming together to find Art, the rumours they find, as well as evidence makes them realise that there is something seriously wrong with their friend.
The author delves into all three of their POVs, giving readers a well-rounded view of their friendship, and where they are now in their lives.
Art is that friend, the one that tries everything, and flits from one job to another kind of always landing on their feet where other mere mortals would definitely not have. He operates on his own frequency, much to the amusement and confusion of his friends. And he’s the kind of person, that when he talks about curing a girl of cancer, and of dark things, you’re not going to believe him. It doesn’t help that he is also an the enigma in this book.
I think the characterisation in this book, along with the evocative writing makes these three characters compelling even if I didn’t like them much — I mean, they did come to realisations about their lives within the book, so they do evolve.
And life in the small town? So much more interesting than you’d think! There are crime lords, and sisters who are so complex, and secret affairs and Art’s drug crop. There’s also the part of living in a small rural town that these three men think they’re above in some ways.
Whatever you may think of Art’s miracle, this is a book filled with complex characters that are struggling in their own ways, but are brought together by Art.
Art, however, takes them somewhere they didn’t expect — and neither will readers — and it’ll make you question what’s real and what’s not about him