I'm Not Scared
Walker Canongate 2010
Ammaniti is one of Italy's most acclaimed younger writers, and this carefully constructed thriller is the first of his books to appear here. During a piercingly hot summer, a few kilometres from a bone-dry hamlet in rural Tuscany, a shy, nervy, nine-year-old boy called Michele explores a derelict house and discovers, under moldering leaves, a horrifying secret. The novel is saved from sensationalism by Ammaniti's almost cinematic ability to conjure detail—the look of scraps of meat on a plate, the sheen of a new bike, the whispers of adults in the night—and by his utterly convincing re-creation of a child's perspective, as Michele's discovery propels him into ever more uncertain territory.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)
I am not entirely sure that I'm Not Scared is the type of book that anyone would say that they liked. I don't mean this as a criticism – it is an accomplished piece of storytelling – but several days after reading it I still cannot think of this odd little story without feeling truly uncomfortable.
Set in rural Italy in the late '70s, the story is told by Michele – a boy of nine in 1978, now recounting the tale from the viewpoint of his early 30s. Nine year old Michele lives in Acqua Traverse – a scattering of houses inhabited by only four families. The summer of 1978 finds the children of the village playing through a blisteringly hot weather, amusing themselves with football, cycling, races and cruel forfeits. It is one of these races that leads them to find a deserted house, hidden in the valley of a nearby hill, and one of the forfeits that finds Michele enter the house alone and make a startling discovery.
Niccolo Ammaniti's writing is exceptional. It is impossible to read this and not see these children running through the sun-cracked land nor avoid experiencing Michele's feelings of excitement and trepidation as he enters the abandoned house. And as far as creepy old houses go, this one is up there with the creepiest exuding menace and darkness. However, it is what Michele does not see through his nine-year-old eyes that makes this story so chilling. As he makes his dark discovery and decides on how to act we, as older readers, can clearly see the danger that he is in. Michele, however, does not even consider that an adult may be behind his horrifying find, instead torturing himself with visions of monsters in the wheat fields and bogeymen outside his bedroom window. As Michele slowly realises the reality of the situation, I'm Not Scared becomes more than just a scary story – evolving into a tale of loss of innocence, trust and childhood. Michele's voice is incredibly authentic, illustrating wonder and fear in equal parts. His parents are compelling characters and become more so as the naiveté of youth falls from Michele's eyes.
I am reluctant to write much more as I really don't want to spoil this slight novel for anyone else who picks it up. This is a tale that is as much about the foibles of being an adult as it is about the glory days of childhood. While in parts a stunning representation of the golden days of early youth, there is an insidious unease that leaks from the pages - a creeping disquiet that has remained with me since I closed the book. Walker Canongate have re-released this title in an attempt to bring it to the attention of younger readers and it should be a huge success. Reminiscent of early Stephen King, yet with a sensibility all its own I highly recommend this title. Just don't expect to sleep well on its conclusion....