From The Telegraph:
I had never read the classic modern Italian novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1958) until I was entrusted with this short collection containing almost everything else by its author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. I had seen Luchino Visconti’s film version from 1963 and been dazzled by the triple whammy of Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon and Burt Lancaster, a trio that could make anyone with a pulse question their sexual orientation several times during each scene. Although Visconti is the father of Italian neo-realism, The Leopard is a stately costume drama and, misled by the film’s opulence, I had imagined the original novel would be a historical doorstopper.
I was surprised to discover a beautifully poised piece of streamlined minimalism. The central character is a Sicilian prince, known as Il Gattopardo after the insignia in his family’s heraldic crest. This beast is actually a slender, long-legged wildcat rather than a leopard, which hints at the Prince’s virility and the African or Arab exoticism of all Sicilians. Yet the name also taunts him, given his lumbering Germanic looks, courtesy of an ancestor’s marriage into the European aristocracy (Burt Lancaster was well cast in the film). The story begins on the eve of Italian unification and turns on the Prince’s acceptance that he cannot fight for his privileges, though he is incapable of adjusting or preparing his family for the future. The reader sees ahead of time how history will set the characters on different trajectories, and the book trembles in one’s hands as one reads. Quietly, yet inexorably, the Prince’s world crumbles to dust, like the dubious religious relics that are thrown on to a rubbish heap in the final devastating chapter. Finishing the novel in a single, day-long sitting, I wondered how a modern author could capture a decaying world so sympathetically yet so coolly.