What you make of this tangled tale of backhanders and blackmail in southern Italy may turn on whether you feel it perpetuates or merely portrays the misogyny at the novel’s heart. It’s tempting to judge the matter purely on the evidence of the prologue, in which an unnamed woman with a ‘full, taut pair of breasts’ wanders naked and bloodied on a motorway after midnight. She doesn’t, to the narrator’s evidently practised eye, look ‘much over thirty’, yet can’t be younger than twenty-five, thanks to ‘the intangible relaxing of tissues that turns the slenderness of certain adolescent girls into something perfect’.
Writing like this is bad in all sorts of ways. Yet the more I read Ferocity, which offers a horribly persuasive account of how male sexual violence can be a tool for consolidating wealth and power, the more I felt sure Nicola Lagioia had set out to do more than simply parrot the kind of objectification on show in a sentence such as this one: ‘She … didn’t even feel the chilly metallic 500-watt power [of the streetlight] that once again revealed the curve of her waist.’ (Revealed to whom?)