Snow, Dog, Foot, by Claudio Morandini (translated by J. Ockenden), is the first book in Peirene Press’s Closed Universe Series. Its protagonist is an old man, Adelmo Farandola, who lives alone in a stone cottage on remote Alpine slopes. The high valley becomes snowed in throughout winter so he stocks up with provisions and firewood ready for the isolation he has chosen. He is aware that his memory is becoming ever more unreliable but rejects overtures of help. He is mistrustful of those in authority with their rules that threaten his way of living.
The story opens with Adelmo making a rare trip to the nearest village to buy long lasting foodstuffs before access is blocked by the imminent snowfall. On his way home Adelmo is followed by an elderly dog, despite the poor creature being verbally and physically abused and then shut out of the cottage. Over time the pair bond as the long winter sets in. A mountain ranger tries to persuade Adelmo to seek shelter amongst other people but the old man has few good experiences of social interaction.
Adelmo has learned how to survive difficult conditions, caring little for how he is perceived so long as he is left alone. He chooses solitude over how others treat him, keeping himself aesthetically repellent and convincing himself this is healthier than the comfort and cleanliness modern society expects.
Adelmo recalls the violence of his boyhood and adolescence. He survived the war years but at a cost. He resents the tourists who sometimes stray onto his land and bother him with requests or attempts at conversation. He surprises himself when he finds he enjoys the talks he has with the dog. With two mouths to feed, however, provisions do not last as long as before.
When the first thaws allow Adelmo to leave his cottage seeking food alongside the other hungry mountain creatures, he discovers a human foot sticking out of the snow. His memory offers up fragments that lead him to act to protect himself from the expected reactions of other people.
The writing is taut and evocative, serving up a memorable character in a setting that is awe inspiring but also merciless. The ranger and the dog provide nuance and colour but it is Adelmo’s history that adds depth and poignancy.
I enjoyed the voice created with its intriguing moodiness, and the changing relationship between man and dog. While unsentimental and at times brutal, this is a tale that packs an emotional punch.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Peirene Press.