The felicity of the wolf
by Paolo Cognetti
Translated from Italian by Anita Rochedy
Stock, 216 p., € 18.50
We have been waiting for this book for four years. Since the immense success of Eight Mountains, the previous novel by Paolo Cognetti, published in 2017. Admittedly, two books by the Italian writer have appeared in the meantime, a travel diary in the Himalayas and a notebook of New York memories. Texts of high quality but which did not use the spring of fiction. This time Cognetti was going to reconnect with the narrative vein that had impressed us so much, a rare combination of a simple story and a refined writing?
The felicity of the wolf is a surprising novel. First, by its division: 36 small chapters, the longest having only ten pages. Then there is no real plot, the twists and turns are minimal. The dialogues between the characters hardly depart from the register of everyday life, not to say banality. Such is, at least, the first appearance. In reality, The felicity of the wolf is a very subtle novel, one of the deepest on the mountain that has been written in years.
It takes place in Fontana Fredda, a small mountain resort in the Aosta Valley, not far from Milan. Fausto arrives. Unsuccessful writer, whose couple has just broken up, he finds work as a cook in the restaurant which welcomes skiers and resort employees. Fausto meets Silvia there, who is a waitress. Very quickly, they become lovers. We also meet Santorso, groomer, rough mountain, and Babette, owner of the restaurant, generous woman.
There are still other characters. Larches, fragile in the storm but fascinating in the fall. “In a matter of days, the entire forest would turn yellow and red, retreating into a long slumber while the dark green of the fir trees stood guard. ” Or the glacier which dominates the valley. “He caught the glow of the starry sky and sent it back into the night. When she was alone in front of this vision, Silvia felt in the presence of a celestial body. “
And then the wolf. He does not occupy such a central place in the novel as the title suggests. But it runs through the whole book. Paolo Cognetti makes us understand that his return to the Alps is largely due to the fact that men are abandoning the high regions. “They may well take this place back, said Babette. Anyway, there is no one left. ” However, Fausto observes that the wolf never becomes sedentary. “Always through new forests, always behind the next ridge, after the scent of a female or the howl of a horde or nothing so obvious, carrying in its course the song of a younger world, like Jack London wrote. “
The secret of the book lies in a gift that Silvia gives to Fausto. Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, famous collection of prints by the Japanese painter Hokusai. “These are all views of Mount Fuji, explains Silvia, but the real subject is the daily life which is played out in front. Work and the passing seasons. “ The same goes for the 36 chapters of The Felicity of the Wolf. Their counting is due to a dream inspired by the old Japanese master: “Three or four brushstrokes were enough for him to paint what he had in mind. “
Without the slightest emphasis, Paolo Cognetti thus makes us feel intimately what life in the mountains is, with its poverty and splendor, its sweetness and its pain. The old peasant girl, Gemma, who only keeps one cow. Fausto, who observes the birth of a lake caused by the melting of glaciers. The death of a mountaineer who briefly mourns the life of a refuge. The hurt tenderness that unites Fausto and Silvia, Babette and Santorso. A whole humanity that can move away from the mountain but never detaches itself from it.