The House of Scorta

Written by Laurent Gaudé
Review by Mirella Patzer

Awarded France’s most prestigious literary prize, Le Prix Goncourt 2004, this novel has sold over 400,000 copies. After reading it, you will understand why. Each page mesmerizes, evoking deep emotion.

In 1870 in southern Italy, an ex-convict rides into town on the back of a donkey, knowing the villagers will kill him to avenge the crimes he committed against them. There he rapes the woman he has longed to bed during his years in prison. But he has the wrong woman. Rocco Scorta is the bastard product of their union, a villain whose crimes rival those of his murdered father.

Rocco marries a mute, a woman who can never speak or reveal his unlawful activities. The Mute bears him three children, Giuseppe, Carmela, and Domenico. Doomed from birth, the three, along with Raffaele, their brother at heart, are blessed with pride and a belief in their own potential. Together, they open a little tobacco shop and settle into a tumultuous life where true happiness eludes them. As the next generation is born, the family battles the malevolent legacy of their past and struggles to overcome the hardships of the present.

Inspired by his love for Italy and stories of his wife’s family, Laurent Gaudé paints a vivid picture of life in a poor Italian village. He writes in an evocative prose, rich in quality and simplicity. He infuses his characters with villainous deeds and the burden of undisclosed lies. The pace is fast, and the characters always shock the reader by doing the unexpected. They are rash and make mistakes for which they suffer, yet they are endearing and believably unique.

Books such as this are rare. Laurent Gaudé is a skilful writer who pushes the story into unpredictable twists and turns that will keep you enthralled to the very end.