Finalista tal-Premju tal-Ktieb 2023
Ezercizi di Sevizia e Seduzione (Ezercizi) was published by Mondadori in 2013, after Irene Chias had debuted in 2010 with Sono Ateo e ti Amo, published by Elliot, a small-to-medium publishing house in Rome: this debut novel was chosen as one of the best six literary debuts of that year by the consortium scrittorincittà, associated with the Scuola Holden writing school (of Alessandro Baricco fame). In 2014, Ezercizi, Chias’ second novel, won both the Premio Mondello Opera Italiana and the Premio Mondello Giovani, which testimonies to the fact that the novel’s publishing appeal also extended to a young adult (YA) audience (in this case seventeen-year olds, quarta superiore –fourth year of high school).
Well before the rise of the #metoo movement in 2017, this novel raises the issue of the perception of sexual violence against women. The fact that violence against women is accepted and ‘normalised’ becomes blatant as soon as the author turns the narrative tables, and portrays a male victim of this gender violence, and therefore extremely different reactions and opinions towards this violence arise in the reader. In a clever show of meta- and intertextual role-reversal, the book’s main character, Ignazia, decides to rewrite rape scenes in fictional narrative, amongst which the Old Testament (Judges 19) and A Clockwork Orange, inverting the gender of the persons involved. Living in a sexist routine, which in Italy, as well as in Malta is often not even properly recognised as such, Ignazia takes action. Twenty years after the release of American Psycho, an answer to the Patrick Bateman atrocities presents itself. But it is an answer far removed from Ellis’ character’s actions, since Ignazia Gugliario is a woman, is not American, and, above all, is not a psycho. After establishing how normal violence on women is perceived, and how absurd, implausible and unacceptable sexual violence on men is, Ignazia decides to take responsibility and strives to balance this state of affairs. The protagonist wages a war against triviality, abducts deplorable men and forces them to listen to her pages, terrorising them in the process. Reversing gender roles in her fiction, Ignazia exposes the paradoxical, hidden acceptance of sexual violence against women. This book has been considered for translation in the USA, and the first four chapters were translated into English, and published on Penn State University’s online magazine, Trafika Europe.
Such a text is rare in the Maltese publishing panorama, both in terms of style and theme. On the one hand, it subverts a normalized and hegemonic ‘commonsensical’ worldview, by ironically rewriting classic texts and by dipping in various literary works concerned with sexual relations and politics; on the other hand, its theme not only predated the worldwide spread of the #metoo movement, but is also an actual theme for contemporary Maltese society as it grapples with gradually revealing its underbelly of domestic violence and generalised violence, physical and beyond, against women.