Cover Image: Never the Wind

Never the Wind

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Member Reviews

Picking up this book and one page in, i realised this book is going to be an immersive experience. So much packed into the mere pages of this book, it made me keep glued to its pages and complete it with three days. Amazing!
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A classy bit of romantic memory lit fit set in the bucolic Puglian countryside of the mid nineties. Yep, that's when memory novels are set now. And its a beguiling and  pretty quick read about a teenager Luca who has recent gone blind and a summer where he falls in love, and has a number of strange (potentially supernatural / potentially hallucinatory) encounters whilst uncovering decades of lost family history. And of course being a memoir there are enough hints to the future to remove all but the most minuscule sense of jeopardy. Actually that's not fair - we know Luca survives but there are hints that other characters may not which are potentially misleading - so perhaps there is more of a bait and switch on the narrative ambiguity. Nevertheless the book is all about being embedded in this boys head, as remembered by the adult, and so we get those first flushes of love, Italian corruption, sibling rivalry and tales of an older Italy too. 

Its an interesting bit of work, this is not the only work of fiction I have encountered this week that have made me wonder what the building blocks and shorthand are of various narrative settings. The family move to a run down farmhouse, a setting which is familiar from all sorts of honey dripped Italian countryside films. Luca can't really describe them to us because he is blind, but our cultural memory (and his actually memory) fills in the blanks. As do hints of satanic panic and unloved children with lovely parents. It is fundamentally the kind of lit fic where what seems like laziness, turns out to potentially be the point, the framing device might rob us of suspense but its mere setting and set up lead it inexorably towards a climax which - whilst not telegraphed - feels appropriate to depiction in popular culture of its setting. All of which I am hugely suspicious of!
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As I loved the authors previous work 'The Book of Hidden Things", I was very happy to get a copy of "Never the Wind", set in the same universe but only to nod at, the story is very much self contained. The narrator is a 13 year old who is coming to terms with going blind, moving to his late grandfathers house, finding that his worshiped brother has many flaws, and that there is a mysterious supernatural presence in the area. This is a beautifully told coming of age tale, a mostly gentle fantasy, set in a small Italian village with more than one form of evil to be found. Really can not say more without spoilers and that would be a terrible thing, just let the author take you on the trip.
The author has be called the Italian Neil Gaiman, but it would be just as accurate to say Gaiman is the English Francesco Dimitri
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“When my tale becomes too dark, just bear in mind that I survived to tell it: I survived the summer of ’96, the savage season in which Ada Guadalupi and I trespassed into another world. It was a miracle – I use the word in its most literal sense – that I made it all the way to September.”

My thanks to Titan Books for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Never the Wind’ by Francesco Dimitri.

This is an unusual coming-of-age story described as a gothic fantasy. I love all things gothic, especially with uncanny or supernatural elements, so I expected it would prove ideal for my tastes.

It is told from the perspective of a blind teenager in Puglia, Southern Italy. The publishers advise that it is set in the same world as the author’s 2018 ‘The Book of Hidden Things’. While I had not read the earlier novel, both clearly work as standalones. However, I am planning to read ‘Hidden Things’ in the near future.

The story opens in 1996 and thirteen-year-old Luca Saracino has been completely blind for eight months. His parents have moved their family to a Southern Italian farmhouse that they dream of turning into a hotel. They face various challenges including coming to terms with Luca’s diagnosis as well as his brother dropping out of university. They hope that in Puglia they will be able to reinvent themselves. 

Luca tells his story without sight, experiencing the world solely through hearing, smell, taste and touch . At the beginning of the summer he becomes close friends with Ada Guadalupi, who lives next door. She takes Luca to explore the area. Yet there are grudges between their families that have lasted for generations that they can’t escape. Add to this there is the Wanderer, an otherworldly creature that has focused their attention upon Luca.

Francesco Dimitri’s writing is lyrical and evocative. In his end notes, titled ‘Toasts’, he writes of the research he undertook in order to write from the perspective of someone experiencing sight loss. On a personal note, as someone with visual impairment who came close to blindness, I could definitely relate to Luca’s situation.

The writing is so elegant and evocative that I wish that Titan Books had added an audiobook edition that would allow those with sight loss to experience this extraordinary novel.

Overall, a beautifully written work of literary fantasy horror told from a unique perspective.
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Set in that stunning corner of Southern Italy that is Puglia, Never the Wind tells of the events from the summer of ’96, the year Luca Saracino moved south from the city of Turin after losing his sight, and his parents decide to build a new life – and a new business – out of his grandfather’s old grange. As Luca learns to navigate his new home without his sight, he begins to sense a sinister presence around the property and in the fields, which manifests in an absence of any sound other than a soft tap, tap, and in an acrid feral smell.

Tied to this mystery is the start of his friendship with Ada Guadalupi, the girl next door, who takes him under her wing and believes his story about this wanderer he has encountered. She becomes his world for the summer; the one who treats him as just Luca instead of ‘Luca the blind boy’, and takes him on all kinds of adventures. But Ada has secrets too, and their two families have not always been on friendly terms. In the long summer days, the Wanderer’s presence isn’t the only danger Luca and Ada will face.

The entire story is told by Luca about 25 years later, in the present day, and I enjoyed the occasional allusions to his life as a grown man while still witnessing the boy. And Luca really made this story; I warmed immediately to him and his narrative voice. His descriptions were so vivid, painting a picture with sound, smell, and feel, and I felt at times that I was actually there! His tone was at times playful, at times nostalgic, always honest, and fully Italian. The characters and their dialogue were something I could so easily translate in my mind and I sometimes forgot I was reading in English… I think Dimitri did an incredible job writing a character that is coming to terms with his blindness, yet is not defined by it.

I do want to dress some expectations, though: Never the Wind is rightfully labelled a fantasy, but it might be better to describe it as ‘magical realism’. This is a story set in our world, and while there is pure magic in the writing, the fantastical is something to be glimpsed, though it certainly affects everything it touches. If you want something epic and fast-paced, this might not be the book for you. Having said that, I can confidently say that this is a story which will stay with me, and grow larger in my mind in the act of remembering it… it is raw, lyrical, and utterly unique. I think a part of me fully believes it, and so the next time I find myself in Puglia, I will pay close attention to the wind.
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Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

TW: abuse, genitalia 

Where to start? This is a well-executed gothic bildungsroman, pulling off the feat of dark thrills in Mediterranean heat. Evocatively written, the characters are completely developed - the line between what is real and what is fake, true and false, old and new, adult and child, (and whether any of this actually matters) is excellently explored.  

I was completely transported to a Southern Italian summer in the 90's, from the mouth-watering descriptions food to lazy days at the beach, it authentically captured children on the cusp of adulthood pre-technology which lent weight to the autobiographical narrative style. 

My main praise of the book was the sensitive and realistic way it treated the two protagonists - one blind, one abused - as more than the sum of their parts. The book really investigated how it would *feel* to have these lived experiences, how they are not all-encompassing, but how they would affect other areas of their lives. Every day instances, like swimming, iced tea, the village gossip are factored in and explored, leaving the characters fully-fleshed and  multi-dimensional. 

I have to agree with other reviewers regarding the discordant nature of including Luca's genitalia so prominently. An embarrassing erection during a shared evening swimming worked, and added value connecting the characters and showing they are awkward teenagers as have we all been. Graphically describing him masturbating, clamping himself between his legs to stop himself urinating and various other references throughout felt gratuitous and inconsistent with the tone of the book.         

This aside, I really enjoyed Never The Wind and look forward to reading more of Dimitri's evocative work!
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This book is absolutely fantastic, my first by Francesco Dimitri but I am so glad to have been introduced to this spectacular author and his talent. I cant much about the story as I don’t believe in spoilers and it’s hard without ruining your enjoyment, but it’s addictive, so very gripping and one of those books where you don’t realise where the time has gone as you read and you think you’ve only been reading for a short time, I love it when a book immerses you this much. It’s a story that will be with you long after you close the final page, I recommended this for anyone who loves fantasy and just great literature , this is going to win so many awards.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
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Sometimes a book comes along that transports you effortlessly to another time and place, that you wonder at how well it is written whilst at the same thoroughly enjoying and being absorbed in it.  'Never the Wind', Italian author Dimitri's second novel in English, is such a book.  I knew from early on in the book that it was something special when I read the descriptions of how a blind person interacts with and experiences space.  It was one of those rare times when a writer manages to express something that you hadn't thought of before yourself, but also makes immediate sense and is relatable.  

I'd read Dimitri's other English novel, 'The Book of Hidden Things', but remembered very little except that I'd enjoyed it.  This one I think must be better, simply because I can't imagine forgetting it in a hurry.  It's narrated by Luca, remembering the summer of 1996 when he was 13 years old and newly blind.  Adapting to his disability is made harder by his naive parents' decision to move from a northern city to a rambling farmhouse in rural Puglia.  Struggling to find his way around, Luca befriends the girl next door, and the summer seems to be improving - until strange things start happening.  But who will believe a blind person that something occult is going on - after all, isn't there a rational explanation that he just can't see?  

Luca is a great protagonist, instantly likeable whilst also being realistic, and I also quickly grew to like the supporting characters - or to feel frustrated by them, depending on their role.  Dimitri conjures up the Italian landscapes to perfection, despite narrating through a character who can't see to describe them.  I can visualise instantly all the places Luca visits in the book, and it's only now that I stop to consider that Dimitri achieved that mostly through describing the smells and sounds.  

I won't reveal too much about the story as it's one to read and enjoy.  It is very gripping and one of those truly escapist novels that draws you right in, so you actually feel like you've been away.  It also stays with you long after you close the pages - a sense of sunshine and undefinable menace.  Whilst it is set in the same village as Dimitri's other English novel, and features a couple of brief references to a character from it, there aren't any spoilers for it nor is it necessary to have read it first.  

I'd consider this a must-read for fans of fantasy fiction and also general fiction - it's one of those books that walks the line between the two.  The reader is able to choose how much they want to believe or explain away. 
 In style and quality it reminds me a lot of Neil Gaiman, particularly 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane'.  It's such a well written novel that I hope it will be considered for book awards as the writing is excellent.  I can't wait for his next book.
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This was such a beautifully written book that I found very hard to put down and when I had to put down I couldn't stop thinking about. A really fantastic read,
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A beautiful, poetic book. A glorious mix of family drama, coking of age and supernatural, this one will stay with me for a while.
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