Monday, 8 June 2009

Swimming in fiction: Andrea Camilleri's detective Salvo Montalbano

Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano often works out his existential angst by having a long swim off the beach his gorgeous little beach house, situated just outside the fictional town of Vigità.

Vigità is based on Camilleri’s home town, Porto Empedocle in the province of Agrigento. The TV series is filmed mainly in and around Ragusa.

I’m a dedicated Montalbano fan, both books and TV. I love to know what decided Camilleri to make his hero a swimmer. Does Camilleri like swimming himself?

In Montalbano’s seventh outing, Rounding The Mark, Montalbano’s swimming is an essential plot device such that it is while swimming the body is found….

“He began swimming in slow, broad strokes. The sea smelled harsh, stinging his nostrils like champagne, and he nearly got drunk on it. Montalbano kept swimming and swimming, his head finally free of all thought, happy to have turned into a kind of mechanical doll. He was jolted back to human reality when a cramp suddenly bit into his left calf. Cursing the saints, he flipped onto his back and did the dead man’s float. The pain was so sharp that it made him grit his teeth. Sooner or later it would pass. These damned cramps had become more frequent in the last two or three years. Signs of old age lurking round the corner? The current carried him lazily along. The pain was starting to abate, and this allowed him to take two armstrokes backwards. At the end of the second stroke, his hand struck something.

In a fraction of a second, Montalbano realized he’d struck a human foot. Somebody else was floating right beside him, and he hadn’t noticed.

“Excuse me,” he said hastily, flipping back onto his belly and looking over at the other.

The person beside him didn’t answer, however, because he wasn’t doing the dead man’s float. He was actually dead. And, to judge from the way he looked, he’d been so for quite a while.”
(p 15)

Montalbano's television "house" and beach in Ragusa, Sicily. Looks like a fair few tourists manage to find their way there: