Let the games begin by Niccolo Armaniti
Text, 2013. ISBN 9781921758461.
(Age: Senior secondary) This latest novel by Nicolo Armaniti, the author of the best-selling I'm not scared, is a satirical expose of the cult of celebrity in contemporary Italy. The author establishes two plot lines that come together in a Rabelaisian party in Rome. Saverio Moneta leads the Wilde Beasts of Avalon, a punk cult that has haemorrhaged members to the point of extinction. In his every-day life he works in a furniture store and is married to the boss's daughter, a frightening woman who treats him with contempt. The other plot line features Fabrizio Ciba, well-known writer, television personality, womanizer and cad. Fabrizio affects a nonchalant attitude to fame, but in fact is insecure about his ability and fears being a nonentity above all else. The two plot lines come together at a party given by a Campagnese millionaire, Salvatore Chiatti, at his villa in the garden of the Villa Ada. Chiatti's money has ostensibly been made from real estate, but he has been in gaol for tax evasion and cattle stealing. He is determined to impress the celebrities of Rome. His party is to last for two days. He has provided an excess of gourmet food and alcohol of all kinds. He has also stocked the park with wild animals and intends to organize the guests into hunting groups for foxes, lions or tigers. Unbeknownst to him, living in the catacombs under his grounds are a group of Russian athletes who are refugees from the Olympic Games held in Rome in 1960. By now they are rather odd looking as a result of spending their time underground by day and emerging only at night to scavenge for food. Saverio and his Wilde Beasts, all four of them, are at the party as waiters, but Saverio plans to execute a rock star and then commit suicide, an act that will ensure his notoriety. Fabrizio is present to make a speech, but also to collect material for a scorching exposee of the bad taste of all present. The stars arrive, the women all big-breasted, big-haired, paper thin but camera hungry, and the men greedily determined to have everything on offer. Armaniti now treats his characters with the ruthlessness that they exhibit. The hunts go awry on a large scale; the elephants panic; the crocodiles discover that they too are hungry; the Russians, fearing that the USSR has finally come to seize them, kidnap as many guests as they can; characters die in horrible ways, particularly when Rome's water system malfunctions and the catacombs are flooded. Fabrizio acts true to type and manages to place his own survival above all others, and scrambles back to life as he has always lead it. However, Saverio sees the foolishness of his plans and is absolved by saving the few innocents at the party. The novel does become quite compulsive reading, despite its range of unappealing characters and bizarre action. However, it is a challenging reading experience and is only for older readers.