The Italian Novelist Who Envisioned a World Without Humanity

Alejandro Chacoff in The New Yorker:

In 1973, shortly after his last novel, like the others before it, was rejected by publishers, the Italian writer Guido Morselli shot himself in the head and died. He left several rejection letters on his desk, and a short note that read, “I bear no grudges.” It was the kind of gesture one of his protagonists might have performed—a show of ironic detachment that belied a deep and obvious pain. Morselli was sixty years old. Before returning to his family’s home in Varese and ending his life, he had been living in near-isolation for two decades, on a small property in Lombardy, near the Swiss-Italian border. There he tended to the land, made wine, and wrote books that faced diminishing odds of publication. The last one that he finished tells the story of an apocalyptic event in which all of humanity suddenly vanishes, leaving a single man as the world’s only witness.

That book, “Dissipatio H.G.” (NYRB Classics), has now been published in English, in a translation by Frederika Randall, a journalist who turned to translating Italian after experiencing health problems caused by a fall. The plot begins with a botched suicide attempt: the unnamed narrator, a loner living in a retreat surrounded by meadows and glaciers, walks to a cave, on the eve of his fortieth birthday, intent on throwing himself down a well that leads to an underground lake. “Because the negative outweighed the positive,” he explains. “On my scales. By seventy percent. Was that a banal motive? I’m not sure.”

Sitting on the edge of the well, he doesn’t so much lose heart as get distracted. The mood is all wrong; he feels calm, lucid, too upbeat to go through with it. He is carrying a flashlight, which he flicks on and off. “Feet dangling in the dark,” he takes a sip of the brandy he has brought with him and considers how the Spanish variety is better than the French and why this is so widely unappreciated. Before leaving the cave, he bumps his head on a rock, and hears a peal of thunder: it’s the season’s first storm. Back home, lying in bed and still dressed, annoyed at the last-minute change of plans, he picks up a gun, considering an easier solution. He brings the “black-eyed girl” to his mouth and pulls the trigger, twice. The gun doesn’t work. He falls asleep.

More here.