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'Down in the valley' is another real Cognetti

Mountains, trees, solitary inhabitants... Down in the valley is another 'real' Paolo Cognetti.

Paolo Cognetti in his mountains ©Marc Brester/A Quattro Mani

You could call him the chronicler of mountains and mountain life. Few writers narrate life at altitude, in the middle of nature, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, as beautifully as Italian author Paolo Cognetti. With his filmed bestseller The eight mountains he captured the hearts of millions of readers. The northern Italian mountains are the fertile soil of Cognetti's authorship.

Master of the small

Cognetti is not an author of the grand gesture; in his descriptions, setting and his language, he shows himself to be a master of the small, of subtlety. His characters are mostly taciturn, hardened by plodding existence in a small mountain community. They are a little rough, but often have something endearing about them too.

So is that in Down in the valley, a mosaic novel that begins with a young female dog being taken in tow by a ferocious grey male dog. Along the way, he kills several other dogs who want to attack them, causing a stir in the village: is the serial killer a wolf, a human or a wild dog?

Larch and spruce

However, the heart of the story, told from different perspectives, is a different one: two brothers who have lost their father Grato to a self-inflicted death. Once, Grato planted two trees next to his house, high and remote on the mountain. A larch for his eldest son Luigi; a tree that reaches for the sun and sways in the wind. And a spruce for his youngest, Alfredo; a tree of shade, but strong. All three have their own shadow side: the men, who have had to make do without a wife/mother, drink like heretics at times.

After Grato's death, the house is empty, and Luigi wants to live there with his wife Elisabetta and their upcoming child. Fredo lives as a woodcutter in Canada, but returns to visit the notary with Luigi. However, Luigi, who is working as a forest warden to track down the 'killer', has concealed the fact that a ski slope is going to be built right next to their father's house. Will that make the house worth more? The day before the notary's visit, everything takes an unexpected turn.


In his afterword, he writes that he was inspired by the wistful record Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen, a record that indeed fits it perfectly in terms of atmosphere. But despite the nature devastation and other atrocities touched on, the novel's atmosphere feels a little less melancholic than in some of his earlier novels because of the composition chosen.

Paolo Cognetti, Down in the valley (160 p.).
Translated from the Italian by Yond Boeke and Patty Krone
De Bezige Bij, € 22.99

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A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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