Book review: Me And You

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SOMETIMES, I can’t help thinking, publishing must be the easiest business in the world. All you have to do is not publish anything until something near-perfect like Niccolo Ammaniti’s latest book comes along.

Film-making is a bit harder, but only because you have to create something that matches the clarity with which a book such as this plays out in the reader’s mind. And yet, I can’t help thinking, Bernardo Bertolucci, who is making a film of Me And You, has got it quite easy too. For one thing, he will be dealing with that great rarity, a book that scene for scene could slide effortlessly into a new medium.

Ammaniti’s central character is Lorenzo Cuni, a 14-year-old loner who has lied to his wealthy Roman parents about being invited by friends on a week’s skiing holiday in the Italian Alps. He persists with the subterfuge after seeing how relieved his mother is when he tells her about the trip.

So he stockpiles food and hides in a cellar, phoning his mother now and again to reassure her that everything is fine. Of course, she wants to speak to the mother of the girl who invited her son on the skiing trip, and Lorenzo knows that there’s really no way round that. And there isn’t, until one day he gets a visit from his half-sister Olivia, a heroin junkie ten years older than him.

What is remarkable about Ammaniti’s novella isn’t just the relationship between the two of them, even though that is the core of the story and doubtless will be of the film too. For me, though, his real skill lies in the vitality he gives even to characters who have little to do with the unfolding relationship between two damaged people in a basement.

Ammaniti doesn’t give us too much about them: that would weaken the drama in the basement. But too little, and what is, after all, the well-worked fictional terrain of adolescent confusion and alienation would not be as well grounded as it is here. Instead, this small gem of storytelling has the balance just about right. If the film keeps that, it will be worth seeing too.

Me And You

Niccolo Ammaniti

Canongate, £10