Back in 2017 I reviewed Domenico Starnone’s Ties, remarking on its explosive opening letters from a furious wife to her unfaithful husband. It was Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation that attracted me to the novel but it was my enjoyment of it that made me put my hand up for Trust. As Lahiri notes in her afterword, it’s the third part in a loosely linked series beginning with Tricks which I’ve yet to read, although as Lahiri is careful to point out, the three do not comprise a trilogy. Trust follows two halves of a love affair which ends after Teresa proposes to Pietro that they tell each other their darkest secret in an effort to keep their fractious relationship afloat.
It was as if our boundless admiration for each other only served to ascertain that we loathed each other, and vice versa
Pietro is devastated when Teresa leaves him shortly after he divulges the secret that could ruin him. Within a year, he’s married Nadia and begun a life on the outskirts of Rome, both teaching at the same school. Nadia is completing her dissertation, hopeful for a future as a mathematician. When his essay is published, written to console himself after Teresa’s departure, it’s the first step on the path to minor celebrity, travelling the country speaking about the inequalities of the education system and promoting his books. In contrast Nadia’s career is blighted by her professor’s advances and she immerses herself in motherhood. Pietro never forgets his revelation to Teresa, following her illustrious career and emailing her with updates on his life, constantly anxious that she might tell the world his secret. When he’s almost eighty, his daughter Emma uses her influence to ensure Pietro is one of the teachers to be celebrated as part of national education day, proposing Teresa as his advocate. Teresa agrees to travel from her New York home to Rome but her version of Pietro’s life is very different from the one he’s taken the trouble to email to her.
But he wasn’t able to hold back and, now that he’s nearing eighty, he’s written the novel about his life, naturally with great claims of truthfulness, even though, from the very beginning – and he taught me this – telling a story means lying, and the better the liar, the better the storyteller
Starnone divides his novella into three parts, by far the most lengthy of which is Pietro’s story followed by brief contributions from Emma and Teresa. Pietro is the quintessential unreliable narrator, presenting himself as a modest man whose working-class origins hold his ambition in check, often quoting his editor’s assessment of him as a man of integrity, conveniently forgetting his many lapses. Emma clearly idolises her father even into her forties, seemingly unaware of the sacrifices her mother has made. The sting in the tale is Teresa’s contribution, overturning several of the impressions Pietro has been at pains to make in his narrative. It’s a structure that works brilliantly. Starnone explores themes of love, family, gender and ageing through these three characters with wit and insight, all, of course, translated expertly by Lahiri whose Afterword is both enlightening and erudite. We never find out what those damning secrets are but it really doesn’t matter.
Europa Editions: London 9781787703186 171 pages Paperback