Sebastiano Vassalli: La notte della cometa (The Night of the Comet)


The latest addition to my website is Sebastiano Vassalli‘s La notte della cometa (The Night of the Comet), surprisingly translated into English and, though out of print, readily available. This is a novelised biography of the Italian poet Dino Campana, a poète maudit. Vassalli has chosen to use the novel form rather than write a conventional biography (I am aware of at least four conventional biographies of Campana in Italian), primarily because it allows him to speculate about Campana and his life. There are gaps in his life, not least because he had the habit of going wandering off without telling anyone where he was going and where he had been. Campana himself had considerable mental health problems and we learn that there were mental health issues on both sides of his family. Indeed, after his younger brother was born, his mother essentially rejected Dino. Campana was anti-social, preferring to immerse himself in books, and found it difficult to adjust to normal life. He spent much of his adult life in and out of institutions and the two careers he tried – the military and pharmaceutics – both failed before he really got started. He had not shown an inclination to be a poet when young, though he took to it later but only published one work – Canti Orfici (Orphic Songs) which he had to self-publish but which is now considered a masterpiece of Italian literature. Vassalli tends to focus on his troubled mental health and family issues though we learn about his problems with the opposite sex. Much of his sexual life was with prostitutes, though he did have an affair with the Italian writer, Sibilla Aleramo, who very much admired his poetry. Vassalli makes the story of Campana’s life interesting, with his speculations, though he does tend to focus more on Campana’s maternal and family problems than on his literary work but it is still a very worthwhile book.

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