DONNA LEON 'THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH'

THE USUAL SUSPECTS?

I've just finished reading the twentyforth novel in the Commissario Brunetti series 'The Waters of Eternal Youth'.


I've probably read all of this series and am always in awe of her deceptively gripping narratives.

I say to my writing group members it's only after writing three of four novels that you begin to read differently as well , so that even as I'm drawn into Leon's soft web I can now notice a little more how she's weaving it. 

Now I can see some of the structure of the almost invisible gossamer threads with which she holds your attention, listening almost secretly to Brunetti’s musings and his observations about people, both the familiar Elettra and his wife Paola, as well as the unfamiliar strangers he meets in his investigation. It’s one of the reasons people return to the same authors and the same heroes – the desire to peek in on a well-known individual who you respect – in Brunetti’s case someone who has admirable principles and operates as a sane and courageous investigator in a wicked world.

 

So – the USUAL SUSPECTS? 

Because Leon does this so artfully it seems almost impertinent to point out that she follows the ‘rules’ as regards the Jungian archetypes.   


HERO    

  • Commissario Guido Brunetti is a self-denigrating hero, constantly at odds with a system, indeed a world he often despairs of, but steadfastly carrying on amongst the ruins of his beloved Venice as it is battered and destroyed by the vultures of ‘progress’. 
  • Leon has said she wanted to create a 'good man' with authentic feelings, intentions and faults. He's just like that in this story - a genuine, determined, yet uncertain pursuer of justice.

  

ALLIES 

The ‘usual’ gang:  

  • Signorina Elettra, providing her trademark immaculately dressed, tech-savvy support, 
  •  Ispetorre Vianello, who brings a gritty workaday realism to counter Brunetti’s Roman classical despondency, 
  • Commissario Claudia Griffoni, who he employs both as a shepherdess for the victim and as an artful distraction for the suspect. 
  • Rizzardi and Bocchese – pathology and forensics support. 


THE VILLAIN/SHADOW

  • He’s actually there right at the beginning – hiding in plain view – and as well as being everything Brunetti hates, is also something he fears, the very worst of male arrogance. 

ENEMIES

  • This villain hides behind his profession and status, which provide him with a lot of protection, so much so that when he is finally interviewed he doesn’t think he needs a lawyer. 
  • As with many of Leon's villains he is both self justifying and yet pathetically inept.

MENTORS/GUIDES

  • Brunetti relies heavily on his family, his wife Paola and two, now older teenage, children.
  • But also he finds solace from his ancient Roman guides - in this investigation Apollonius

THRESHOLD GUARDIANS/JOBSWORTHS 

  • His superior Vice-Questore Patta is as always aggravated by both Brunetti’s connections to the Venetian upper class and his disinterested contempt for most of them. 
  • Lieutenant Scarpa, Patta’s informant/spy who is always trying to obstruct or discredit Brunetti.


TRICKSTERS/SHAPESHIFTERS/SLIPPERY CUSTOMERS 

  • The victim’s mother comes into this category – Brunetti isn’t quite sure about her. 
  • The second victim, Cavanis, is an unreliable drunkard, but he does help solve the case. 

THE VICTIM

  • Leon provides Brunetti with two victims during this investigation – one still alive, but cruelly damaged, and the other much later in the story when he becomes a threat to the villain.


SO WHAT? YOU ASK

What I’m trying to do here is show that the ‘Hero’ character structure is always there, even when it’s so deftly disguised by writers like Leon.  

But this doesn’t mean one has to follow it slavishly, it’s more of a post edit check list. 

So in this example it’s clear that she has used all the archetypes, although perhaps without many 'shapeshifters'. 

I suspect this is because Brunetti is a character who is always intrigued by every person he meets - as though everyone is generally more or less than they seem at first. 

Much of his internal dialogue details this curiosity about people and this is most overt when he’s watching and listening to his female colleague, Griffoni, in the final interrogation. 

He’s both fascinated and impressed by how she uses her physicality and the devious way she helps him disconcert the suspect into a bemused and angry confession, but also at times he daren’t even look at her. 

This is what makes me want to read Leon’s books. 

It’s the 'what’s not spoken’ that’s so captivating.  


Yet there’s more. 

It only struck me when rereading sections for this review, just how clever she’d been in another way. 

In the drama classroom we use the term ‘foreshadowing’ meaning giving clues or hints about what is beneath the action, which foretell the direction and the possible climax of the tale. 

This happens in all stories and here Leon introduces us to the villain in the most innocuous way – hiding in plain sight at a dinner party.  

But she also does something else. 

Chapter 5, page 47, we find ourselves, as Leon fans have come to expect, at dinner with his family. 

His daughter asks him a difficult question about being approached in the street for money. 

The family discuss it at length, leaving Brunetti uneasy about his daughter’s safety and peace of mind.  

This might sound like a diversion, but it’s cleverer than that because what Leon is doing here is ‘foreshadowing’ the horror to be revealed  in the denouement – she’s creating an unsettling  atmosphere about a specifically ‘young girl feeling threatened’ situation, which is what this story is all about.   


So, finally, what can I tell you? 

The Waters of Eternal Youth’ is another slow moving tale told by a quiet storyteller, who leads you into a terrible place, takes your breath away with her coup de grace . . . and leaves you weeping on her last page.

 Awesome.