REVIEW: The Pike by Lucy Hughes- Hallett (review by Lucinda Holdforth) #swf2014

Order The Pike Gabriele D'Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War hereDon’t be put off by the apparently obscure subject and considerable heft of Lucy Hughes-Hallet’s wonderful biography of Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Pike.

D’Annunzio leaps off the page as a sex-mad spendthrift poet; a crack-pot warrior who led a small army to seize and rule an Istrian port city; and an almost-but-not quite-comic prototype for Mussolini’s Fascism.

The Pike is a gripping portrait of a man acting out his own Nietzschean fantasies, but it also offers rare insight into that strange early 20th century period when so many Europeans, perhaps in what historian Christopher Clark termed “a crisis of masculinity”, came to view violent conflict as a desirable end in itself.

D’Annunzio was one of the most lavish proponents of this view – extolling blood, death and slaughter as a form of glorious masculine hygiene and nation-building.

Hughes-Hallett takes us deep into D’Annunzio’s bizarre world, and we emerge repelled but fascinated, and enlightened.

I’ll never look at Italy the same way again. And I have put a visit to D’Annunzio’s final folly, his house Il Vittoriale on Lake Garda, on my must-see list next time I visit. Review by Lucinda Holdforth

The Pike won the Samuel Johnson Prize and it was chosen as Book of the Year by more critics than any other book in 2013!

Lucy Hughes-Hallet will be at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May this year -
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Order The Pike Gabriele D'Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War hereThe Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War

The story of Gabriele D’Annunzio, poet, writer, novelist, dramatist, daredevil, and one of the early precursors of Fascism.

In September 1919 Gabriele D’Annunzio, successful poet, dramatist and occasional politician with an innate flair for the melodramatic, declared himself the Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern day Croatia. He intended to establish the utopian modern state upon his muddled fascist and artistic ideals and create a social paradigm for the rest of the world. It was a fittingly dramatic pinnacle to a career that had been essentially theatrical.

In her new book Lucy Hughes-Hallett charts the enthralling but controversial life of D’Annunzio – acclaimed poet and author, legendary seducer and charmer – who lived an extravagant and debt-ridden life, and became a military and national hero. He evolved from an idealistic poet, who allied himself with the Romantic aesthetic, to an instigator of radical right-wing revolt against democratic authority.

D’Annunzio’s colourful story is also a political parable: through his apparently contradictory nature and the eventual failure of the Fiume endeavour, a picture is created of the politically turbulent Europe of the early 20th century and of the poison of emergent fascism.

As in the successful Heroes, Hughes-Hallett takes the story of a memorable character’s life to explore the society and politics of the times in which he lived. She raises questions concerning the figure of the ‘superman’, the cult of nationalism and the origins of political extremism and war. At the centre however stands the flamboyant and charismatic D’Annunzio: a figure as deplorable as he is fascinating. Order a copy.

About the Author:

Author: Lucy Hughes-HallettLucy Hughes-Hallett is an award-winning cultural historian, biographer and critic. The Pike has won the Samuel Johnson Prize and it was chosen as Book of the Year by more critics than any other book in 2013. Lucy’s previous books are Heroes: A History of Hero Worship and Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams, and Distortions . She began her career as a feature writer on Vogue, after having won the Vogue Talent Contest, and subsequently won the Catherine Pakenham Award for young female journalists. She was the Evening Standard’s television critic for five years and she has written on books or theatre for most of the leading British broadsheet newspapers. She has judged a number of literary prizes, including the Costa Children’s Book Award, and, most recently, the Duff Cooper Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Praise for The Pike from the Press:

‘Among the bizarre and sensational, it would be hard to beat Gabriele D’Annunzio. The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, a life of the Italian poet and self-promoter, is the acclaimed winner of the 2013 Samuel Johnson prize for nonfiction, and a biographical tour de force.

Even by Italian standards, D’Annunzio is stranger than fiction. Bestselling poet, aviator, showman, war hero, libertine and fantasist, he was the proto-fascist manifestation of that strand in Italian life that flourished under Mussolini (whom D’Annunzio despised). But he was also a European phenomenon. James Joyce compared him to Flaubert, Kipling and Tolstoy. Hughes-Hallett has previously written about heroes and supermen. D’Annunzio is the subject for which she has long been in rehearsal.

Small, self-obsessed, with very bad teeth, D’Annunzio is not an appealing character. His treatment of those close to him was shocking. His ideas were ridiculous. Hughes-Hallett justifies her interest by claiming, perhaps correctly, that D’Annunzio’s story illustrates how the glorious classical past can lead to the jackboot and the fascist manganello.I do hope this image is genuine!

D’Annunzio was also obsessed with sex and with the smell, taste, texture, and sensation of his lovers’ bodies. His letters are replete with detail which Hughes-Hallett, who revels in sensuality, has mined voraciously. The Pike, an off-putting title, is nevertheless a rich, voluptuous treat. She rightly says her subject is “half-beast, half-god”. Confronted with an unreliable subject she has adopted a method more common to novels than biographies. The result is a triumph, the biography of the year.’ Robert McCrum, Observer, ‘Books of the Year’

‘[The Pike] dramatically extends biography’s formal range to encompass a daunting theme’ TLS, ‘Books of the Year’

‘This is a magnificent portrait of a preposterous character … deplorable, brilliant, ludicrous, tragic but above all irresistible, as hundreds of women could testify. His biographer has done him full justice’ Francis Wheen, Daily Mail

‘A cracker of a biography, an extraordinary story of literary accomplishment, passionate war-mongering and sexual incorrigibility… In less skilled hands this could have been a disaster; in fact it works wonderfully well’ Spectator, ‘Books of the Year’

‘Beautiful, strange and original … an extraordinarily intimate portrait’ New StatesmanLess distressing

‘Hugely enjoyable … Hughes-Hallett has a great talent for encapsulating an era or an attitude …That almost 700 pages flew by bears testimony to how pleasurable and readable those pages were’ Sunday Times

‘A splendid subject for a biography … Hughes-Hallett dances her way through this extraordinary life in a style that is playful, punchy and generally pleasing … In death, as in life, the amazing story of D’Annunzio is painted in primary colours, but with the darkest shadows’ Observer

‘A riveting biography … It must have been so tempting to be judgemental, but Hughes-Hallett allows us to judge for ourselves’ Antonia Fraser, Daily Mail, ‘Books of the Year’

‘Not only an inspired telling of a life that becomes more repellent with each page, it illuminates early 20th-century Europe in brilliant, unexpected ways’ Observer

‘Electrifying … a fascinating portrait … Hughes-Hallett relates his journey from romantic idealist to Right-wing warmonger with flair and insight’ Daily Express

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