Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Story of woman's sexual adventures gets UK publication after 45 years
The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza, hailed as forgotten masterpiece, was rejected as 'pile of iniquity' by one publisher
Goliarda Sapienza, an Italian actor who died penniless in 1996 having failed to find a publisher for The Art of Joy. Photograph: Archivio Sapienza Pellegrino
A novel written 45 years ago, which follows the sexual adventures of a woman who sleeps with both men and women, commits incest and murders a nun, and which was considered at the time too shocking for readers, is finally to be published in Britain.
Penguin is bracing itself for controversy over The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza, an Italian actor who died penniless in 1996, having struggled in vain to woo a publisher. One rejected it as "a pile of iniquity".
Sapienza's husband kept the manuscript for two decades, publishing 1,000 copies himself in 1998 before it was eventually taken up by publishers in Italy and France as a forgotten masterpiece. It has sold 300,000 hardbacks in France alone – more than any major hardback fiction book last year in Britain. Le Monde called Sapienza an "exceptional writer".
Penguin is finally making it available in English from 4 July. Alexis Kirschbaum, editorial director of Penguin Classics, described the novel as extraordinary, with its own distinctive style, and believes Sapienza belongs with writers such as Henry James.
She says she bought it two years ago – before Fifty Shades of Grey made erotic fiction mainstream – but its 600 pages have taken Anne Milano Appel until now to translate. Fifty Shades has shown that there is an interest in women's sexuality, Kirschbaum said, describing Sapienza's approach as "much more sophisticated" because her novel is also political, historical and philosophical.
Sapienza wrote of "a body that is its own master, made wise by an understanding of the flesh" and her character, Modesta, is a rare creature in literature – "a female libertine" and "an emblem for sexual freedom", Penguin said, calling her "the antithesis of the simpering Bella/Anastasia archetypes that populate the pages of mass-market books like Fifty Shades and Diary of a Submissive".
Sapienza's own life was worthy of a novelist's imagination. Having appeared in Luchino Visconti films, she struggled financially and was jailed for stealing a friend's jewellery. She published several novels, but The Art of Joy is her masterpiece, Kirschbaum said.