The Book of Hidden Things: Friendship, magic and the lure of hidden things

The Book of Hidden Things Book review

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.

Blurb

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.

Characterisation

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

9 Comments

  • I’m so happy to read this review, i also have this book to review, and youve made me excited to read it now?

    • Verushka says:

      I hope you enjoy it! I must admit this was a hard one to review without giving too much away, but the friends and their characterisation were something I enjoyed so much.

  • Jen Mullen says:

    I love the title and the book cover, and you say the writing is evocative and complex characters! I want this one. 🙂

  • Daniela Ark says:

    oh wow I was surprised to see this beautiful cover here V! I don’t think I’ve seen many fantasy/MR reviews here! I often find MR books hard to describe 🙂 I AM SO READING THIS V! Magical Realism? Italy?? YES! Thanks for the awesome review!

  • Kelly says:

    This must have been quite the difficult one to review Verushka, I have the feeling there’s a lot more to meets the eye with not only Art but his three remaining friends. They sound as though they’re just trying to relive their heyday again and again, where Art was at least forging his own path. As dangerous as it is. Really curious about this one, usually magical realism is a bit of a hit or miss for me. Wonderful review Verushka darling, really enjoyed it ♡♡♡

  • I was liking the cover until I saw what looks like a dog being hung from a tree! Now I’m disturbed!

  • I’ve been seeing this book around and it’s made me curious! I love the cover. Thanks for your awesome review (which I didn’t find garbled at all by the way!). I do like it when a character can be compelling even if you don’t like them – something is there to keep you flipping the pages.

    Although this isn’t something that I would generally read I do always love knowing more about all the books and I’m going to recommend this one to a friend.

  • I have a thing for books set in Italy anyway, but this one really does sound wonderful, especially the friendships and the small town setting. Great review!

  • Some books are just hard to review. The characters do sound compelling, even if not likeable! And ooh magical realism, I haven’t read much of that.

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