Francesco Dimitri's The Book of Hidden Things was published by Titan Books in July 2018.

Information about Francesco Dimitri:

Francesco Dimitri is an Italian author and speaker living in London. He is on the Faculty of the School of Life. He is considered one of the foremost fantasy writers in Italy, and his works have been widely appreciated by non-genre readers too. A film has been made from his first novel, La Ragazza dei miei Sogni. The Book of Hidden Things is his debut novel in English.

Information about The Book of Hidden Things:

Four old school friends have a pact: to meet up every year in the small town in Puglia they grew up in. Art, the charismatic leader of the group and creator of the pact, insists that the agreement must remain unshakable and enduring. But this year, he never shows up.

A visit to his house increases the friends’ worry; Art is farming marijuana. In Southern Italy doing that kind of thing can be very dangerous. They can’t go to the Carabinieri so must make enquiries of their own. This is how they come across the rumours about Art; bizarre and unbelievable rumours that he miraculously cured the local mafia boss’s daughter of terminal leukaemia. And among the chaos of his house, they find a document written by Art, The Book of Hidden Things, which promises to reveal dark secrets and wonders beyond anything previously known.

Francesco Dimitri’s first novel written in English, following his career as one of the most significant fantasy writers in Italy, will entrance fans of Elena Ferrante, Neil Gaiman and Donna Tartt. Set in the beguiling and seductive landscape of Southern Italy, this story is about friendship and landscape, love and betrayal; above all it is about the nature of mystery itself.

REVIEW: THE BOOK OF HIDDEN THINGS BY FRANCESCO DIMITRI

Francesco Dimitri's The Book of Hidden Things is an outstanding, thought-provoking and well-crafted tale about friendship, love, mysteries and strange happenings in Southern Italy. It's one of the absolute highlights of the year, because the author explores friendship in a mesmerising way and writes about hidden things that linger at the edges of our perception, but hide from us.

The Book of Hidden Things is the author's first novel in English. It's a fine achievement in fantastical storytelling, because it has a polished feel to it and the events are fascinatingly mysterious. Having an appreciation for literary speculative fiction novels that are something different, I can mention that the author pushed all the rights buttons to get me hooked by the story. When I began to read the story, I was totally hooked by it and couldn't stop reading it.

This literary speculative fiction novel is a bit difficult to classify, because it has several elements ranging from fantasy and magical realism to horror and modern weird fiction (the events are firmly grounded in reality, but there's an uncanny sense of something unknown and unsettling). The story has a Neil Gaimanesque and Peter S. Beaglesque kind of a quality to it that can't be found in many novels. It also has a touch of darkness that reminds me a bit of the novels written by James Brogden.

The Book of Hidden Things tells of four friends (Art, Fabio, Mauro and Tony), who have made a Pact: they meet each other on the same day each year - on the tenth of June - in their small hometown Casalfranco in Southern Italy. They've done so for many years, but this year Art is missing. Because Art has always been adamant about the Pact, the others are worried about him. When they begin to investigate why Art is missing, they find out that Art has been growing marijuana despite the local mafia controlling the drug trade. They also hear rumours about Art curing a young girl of leukemia. Soon they find a manuscript written by Art, The Book of Hidden Things, which promises to reveal secrets.

The gradually unfolding story is intricate and subtle yet harrowing and intense. The author lends a powerful voice to the characters and enhances the reading experience by giving a nostalgic coating to the story.

The characterisation is achingly realistic, because each of the characters is fully fleshed out with traits and flaws of their own. The author explores the lives and relationships of the characters in a believable way. The characters feel so realistic and three-dimensional that they could easily be real people.

Fabio is a fashion photographer and has money problems. He doesn't get along with his father. Tony is a surgeon who has done a difficult heart transplant. He is gay and has come out to his friends. Mauro is a successful lawyer and is married with wife and children.

Art is described in an especially intriguing way, because the author writes about what Art's friends think about him and his life. Art is unlike his friends and thinks differently about certain things. He is an intriguingly complex character, because he is a talented and resourceful man, but he is also damaged and flawed, because his childhood experiences have affected him.

I like the author's way of exploring friendship and what it means to the characters, because they've known each other for a long time and know many things about each other. There's plenty of nostalgia in the author's descriptions about the characters and there's also a bit of melancholy and sadness beneath the surface, because life has treated each of the characters in a different way.

The flashbacks about the teenage years are excellent and bring depth to the story. It was interesting to read about what kind of a childhood the characters had and what happened to them, because there was an incident concerning Art that affected all of them and cast a shadow on their lives. This incident and its repercussions are admirably handled by the author.

The author examines the friends' Pact in a captivating way. Because they've made a Pact, they can't break it and try to honour it. It's one of the few things in their lives that haven't changed over the years. It binds them together in a strong way. Although each of them has their own lives, they're all bound by the Pact and are compelled to return to Casalfranco each year.

Things related to eroticism, sex and sexuality are explored excellently and unflinchingly. Heterosexual and homosexual elements are an essential part of the story arc and the author writes realistically about them. The author also addresses such difficult issues as religion and possible child abuse in an excellent and thought-provoking way.

One of the best things about this novel is that the author evokes a strong and beautiful vision of the hot and sun-drenched southern Italy with his words. His depictions of the sunny climate and the small town are atmospheric. They bring flare to the story and deepen its literary values.

The supernatural elements splendidly spice up the story. I found myself captivated by them, because the author gradually revealed things and hinted at something unknown during the story. What the author writes about the hidden things is truly mesmerising, because he touches upon horror and weird fiction elements while telling about them.

I like Francesco Dimitri's descriptive prose very much, because he writes about emotions and happenings in an effortless way and is capable of making the reader think about things. His literary prose will haunt the reader's mind, because his meditation on life, love and friendship is insightful and thought-provoking.

Francesco Dimitri's The Book of Hidden Things is a captivatingly written and immersive speculative fiction novel. If you want to read something compelling and different, you can't afford to miss this brilliant novel, because it's a rewarding and thoroughly satisfying read. It's a gem of a novel that marks the emergence of a talented new author with an insightful voice.

Highly recommended!

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