Marc Biancarelli, a high school teacher of the Corsican language, is also an accomplished writer in both French and Corsican.
Biancarelli’s latest novel Murtoriu recounts the events leading up to the murder of the taciturn Mansuetu, one of the last Corsicans still working as a shepherd. Told from the perspective of his friend, a melancholic and slightly misanthropic bookstore owner, Murtoriu weaves the story of the narrator’s grandfather in World War I and that of the two murderers into the main narrative, highlighting the bravado and violence of Corsican culture, the dark side of its transition to a tourist economy, and its traditions of food, family, and friendship. In a beautiful, sun-filled Corsica haunted by the past, Murtoriu takes the reader on an existential exploration of the options open to Corsicans today as the traditions of yesteryear slowly and sometimes brutally come to an end.
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Failed writer, part time bookseller, Marc-Antoine Cianfarani lives a reclusive life in the mountains of inland Corsica. Disgusted by the materialism of contemporary life, and the destruction wrought on the island by the depredations of tourism on which it depends, he spends his time either alone or with his only friends, Trajan, a farmer with a passion for history and architecture, and Mansuetu, an old shepherd, whom he sees as the last remaining representative of an ancient, timeless way of life which was destroyed by the wars and violence which marked the 20th century.
The novel was originally written in Corsican, a language whose increasingly minority status renders it a subversive literary tool, perfect for expressing the anti-French sentiment which pervades the text, even though it is of course in French translation that the novel achieved its success. Its misogyny and despair, the casual violence and deadpan nastiness, have shades of Houellebecq, which contrast with the loving descriptions of the Corsican landscape and the almost mythical accounts of traditional meals (think rotting cheese alive with maggots and hedgehogs that are grilled alive over wood fires). It’s very well written, with tight prose and none of that overly lyrical description that can bleed into self-indulgence that is unfortunately quite common in contemporary French novels.