The palace described in such loving and rich detail in di Lampedusa’s memoir was his home for 47 years, until it was bombed in WWII (here’s a peek of it restored and, more specifically, a peek into the library restored). His wife’s family inhabited a picturesque and extensive property as well. This lavish and privileged world was disintegrating, literally, so the question of what remains, of a family and of an individual, has a particular urgency when one’s life has been so completely defined by wealth and status and those elements are stripped away.
Steven Price’s novel does rely on the memoir that di Lampedusa wrote. Entire scenes (like the one in which he, as a boy, was greeted by Napoleon’s wife, Eugénie, although, at the time, he did not recognize her as such) are reproduced, in such a way as to be faithful to the original memory while also developing the emotional truth that one might intuit through the lens of The Leopard. (It’s another way of considering how fortunes sway. There are many layers to this story and they’re presented to readers to discover without the knot of connection being pulled tight.)
But di Lampedusa’s novel resonates more solidly with the present day because, although he was writing in the 1950s (and unable to secure a publisher for The Leopard before he died in 1957), the sense of loss is recognizable to those of us who see that we are losing great riches in this era, too, as the climate changes and related devastation unfolds. Aspects of life which have endured are slipping farther away. (There are other aspects of this theme which resonate too, particularly with a growing divide between haves and have-nots, but saying too much about these elements risks revealing the trajectory of the novel.)
In writing about Steven Price’s Giller-nominated novel, inspired by di Lampedusa and his novel, I’ve not yet said much about this 2019 work.