Viola Ardone: how much… “Great Wonder” in the bonds of the heart

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By John

«I encounter my stories because it is a voice that comes to me and in this case the first voice was that of Fausto Meraviglia, a former 1968 psychiatrist who on the threshold of 75 years of age, in 2109, before the upheaval of the pandemic, begins to deal with his past. Then the girl from Elba came to meet me, a little girl born and raised in a mental hospital with her mother interned there.” Thus speaks Viola Ardone, Neapolitan writer and teacher, of the third novel that completes her ideal trilogy of the twentieth century: «Great Wonder»premiered in Pordenonelegge, follows «Il train dei bambini» (2019) and «Olivia Denaro» (2021), a narrative journey that goes from the post-war 1940s to the 1960s and then to the 1980s up to the present day.

This is also a story in which Ardone reflects on parenthood which does not always correspond to biological ties: «I am intrigued by familial but non-traditional emotional relationships – says the writer – the recognition of the love that here exists between a man who has always been a little unaffectionate with his family and this little girl to whom he bonds with paternal love. This story, possible but not true, starts from the description of one of the worst places imaginable: the mental hospital. So I put myself from the most uncomfortable point of view, that is, that of a little girl closed there, inside a place that Elba calls “half the world” because she knows, thanks to television, that the other half of the world is outside. And I thought: how do you get out of here not only physically but mentally? At a certain point in the story her mother disappears and she finds herself alone within this community of people with mental difficulties or because they are “irregular” like her mother.”

So over the years Elba compiled a diary «in which she also invented new words, gave fantasy names to both doctors and patients, repeated the nursery rhymes and language games taught to her by her mother which helped her to cope with this situation. Until she meets a young psychiatrist, Fausto Meraviglia, who takes care of her and finds a flame of light even inside a dark place like the mental hospital. Meanwhile, the Basaglia law was recently approved (in ’78) and Meraviglia manages to bring Elba home with him, like another daughter and perhaps the only daughter that he truly chooses in her life.”

This naturally cuts short the lives of both of them, of him but also of the girl who finds herself faced with freedom, difficult to live, as well as the paternal feeling for Fausto: a putative father and daughter who together try a path towards freedom, she the portrait of naivety, he is the disillusioned one who has experienced many things, love, sex, political battles, and now experiences the possibility of experiencing wonder.
«There is no explanation why one chooses – adds Ardone – why one has the right to be loved, one is loved for free, in an unmotivated way. It’s a mystery to be in someone’s heart, it’s something we don’t always get the credit for, this is a bit of the madness of love, and they both discover it, both Fausto and Elba.” ».