La notte si avvicina is a novel which Loredana Lipperini started writing in 2016, long before any whispers of possible real pandemics made it to Italy. And yet, her gripping, terrifying exploration of a resurgence of the plague was only published in 2020, with barely a few experience-based tweaks from its previous drafts. The title, which is also a refrain throughout the story, is part of children’s lullaby, and carries all the unspoken creepiness of nursery rhymes. Lulling children to sleep, convincing them that everything is fine, even as night falls and as shadows close in. La notte si avvicina – night is closing in.
When the disaster took place, then, the town was locked down, we were all prisoners. No one in, no one out. Initially we just saw it as an injustice, like the rose plants and their leaves, eaten through despite all the care, water every evening, the carefully sprayed Neem oil, even the sweet and nonsensical words that we speak to plants pretending they can hear us. The feeling of confinement, and fear, came later: the beginning was a time of protest, because no one believed in the plague. Some mocked the doctors, undoubtedly at the service of morbid powers. Some believed in a cosmic energy that would protect them, and at the end of the long hours of prayer to whatever divinity, would take to the streets to explain to others that there was no real danger, with the superiority of the believer. Some could not give up their happy hour just one town over, the multiplex and the shopping centre. Some hung a sheet on their balcony, with big black letters reading: “Let’s Rebel.”
I’m getting my times confused, the after and the before. But it’s necessary: if all we do is parse time, ordering it in sequence as on a calendar, we would not make sense of it. Time moves forward and backwards, along strings we are unable to follow, and so when I recall the days of the plague I cannot not think of what came before, when we could still do everything, when the word ‘fever’ only meant the flu, a bump in the road, a stumble, and all the bad illnesses kept happening to other people, and everything was far away, like a dream about someone else.
Read the full piece at European Literature Network!