#RivetingReviews: Max Easterman reviews THE MEASURE OF TIME by Gianrico Carofiglio

This is Gianrico Carofiglio’s latest outing for his campaigning lawyer, Guido Guerrieri from Puglia (his name implies ‘warrior’). We left him in A Fine Line (reviewed here in May 2016) musing ruefully and bitterly on the ethics of the legal profession; now we find him world-weary and alienated even further from the routine of the courtroom and the processes of the law: just reading the paperwork fills him with ‘a sense of nausea … getting slowly but inexorably worse.’ One should, he thinks, be able to die young, ‘not in the sense of really dying, but … stopping what we’re doing when we realise we’ve exhausted our desire to do it … Anything just to escape the grip of time.’

Into this maelstrom of self-doubt and ennui steps Lorenza Delle Foglie, a former lover, an older woman who initiated Guerrieri into great sex and great literature many years earlier, only to toss him aside and vanish from his life. Her reappearance disturbs him, and not only for the less-than-happy memories it awakens. She wants him to take on an appeal against her son’s conviction for murdering a small-time drug dealer. The son’s original lawyer – supposedly the best – has since died of an unspecified illness that affected his handling of the case. 

Lorenza is convinced, indeed ‘knows’, her son is innocent; Guerrieri is not convinced: ‘if we always believed the nearest and dearest, the crime of homicide…would vanish from the statistics.’ And it’s more than just a personal dilemma. A conference with his legal team convinces him that the case is going to be one of the most difficult of his career. 

This double dilemma provokes some of Carofiglio’s most profound reflections on the roles of judges, prosecutors, and especially defence counsel in the Italian system. In the guise of a lecture by Guerrieri to trainee magistrates, his philosophising, in which he quotes from Hobbes, Bentham and Norberto Bobbio, among many, suggest his arguments are just as relevant to any socio-legal system anywhere, including our own here in Britain. How is it, he wonders, that we give jurists the power to decide the ‘freedom and destiny of another man’? Do they treat this power with circumspection? Or do people ‘become files and papers, and in this there’s an element of terrible brutality’. Jurists, he argues, have to spend much of their time doing things that seem to have little to do with the law, like ‘reading good novels, watching good films … because it’s the art of the storyteller that reminds us that there is not just one single answer to human dilemmas. [They] are inevitably ambiguous.’

So legal conflicts often reflect moral dilemmas, and Guerrieri asks his audience if they’ve ever asked themselves which of our present-day beliefs will be rejected by future generations. 

The relationship of these powerful arguments to the case at the centre of this story becomes clear: those who sit in judgement have to find solutions, ‘but we need to be aware that the ability to find answers and solutions to conflicts is based on our ability to live with uncertainty, with the opaqueness of reality.’

So much, then, for the solemn pronouncement of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’, whether by an Italian magistrate or a British jury! The problem is, according to Guerrieri, that all people tend to reject the positions and opinions of others in situations of contention … and none more so than Lorenza Delle Foglie. So he has to argue from her and her son’s point of view, even though he knows it’s as likely or not to be the wrong one.

This debate, like others in the earlier Carofiglio novels, makes up a significant part of the story – as always superbly translated by Howard Curtis; but it is no way a rambling monologue: without it, this book would not be the great read that it is. Carofiglio has a fine mind and a gift for storytelling, and this debate has a depth and relevance that underpins the narrative and leads in hindsight, inexorably, to the devastating conclusion. 

Gianrico Carofiglio has of late, in addition to fiction, turned to political analysis in a series of published conversations with the journalist Jacopo Rosatelli. Their theme is based on George Orwell’s division of political thinkers into ‘the Utopian with his head in the clouds and the Realist with his feet in the mud’. It’s manifest from Guerrieri’s musings which of the two most corresponds to where Carofiglio stands. There is a feeling of finality in The Measure of Time, a sense that Guerrieri has reached a point of no return, which makes me wonder if he is about to take his final bow – or maybe he already has? 

Reviewed by Max Easterman

THE MEASURE OF TIME

by Gianrico Carofiglio

Translated by Howard Curtis 

Published by Bitter Lemon Press (2021)


Max Easterman is a journalist – he spent 35 years as a senior broadcaster with the BBC – university lecturer, translator, media trainer with ‘Sounds Right’, jazz musician and writer.

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Category: April 2021Reviews

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