The Most Loved by Teresa Ciabatti
La più amata
Teresa Ciabatti is an author and screenwriter from Orbetello in Tuscany. She has written four other novels, one of which (Adelmo, torna da me, Adelmo, Come Back to Me, 2002) was made into a film (L’estate del mio primo bacio, The Summer of my First Kiss 2006). All of her novels are yet to be translated into English. The Most Loved was a finalist in second place in the Premio Strega 2017. It is a (semi-fictionalised) autobiographical excavation of the past and the self with the aim of understanding who the author’s father was, and by extension, how she came to be the woman she is today.
‘My name is Teresa Ciabatti, I am forty-four years old and I can’t find peace. I want to find out why I’m this kind of adult, there must be a reason. I remember, I relate. Something must have happened. Someone must have done something bad to me. I remember, I relate, I invent. What created this incomplete woman?’
Her father, Lorenzo Ciabatti, referred to throughout as ‘The Professor’, was the head surgeon at Orbetello Hospital and seen by everybody in the town, including his daughter, as a God. People say he was a good man, a philanthropist, respected by all. He helped the poor free of charge - 'The Professor loves poor people’ - and Teresa remembers him constantly receiving gifts and favours (he didn't need to hire a gardener, one of his doctors would do it). At the same time, he is described as ‘unscrupulous […] a liar, a fascist.’ A number of name-drops of notorious acquaintances and the question of his membership of the ultra-right organisation Propaganda Due suggest his involvement in the dark side of Italy’s modern history.
Teresa is a spoiled little girl, living in the lap of luxury in – as she tells her friends – ‘the most beautiful house in Argentario, with a pool.’ Not just any pool though, a pool with a private bunker. Teresa is the daughter of The Professor, utterly adored by him, and so,
‘with all that he does for others, what on earth will he do for me? […] Ballerina, president of the Republic, the first female president, saint. Saint Teresa of Orbetello: here I am, celestial, evanescent, striding regally along the beach, I don’t stop, I proceed onto the water, walking on the water, everyone saying oh, whispering: “I knew she was special.” I am special, yes.’
Of course her pumped up ego doesn’t transport her to stardom. Instead she goes through adolescence struggling with her weight, her parents’ separation, tricky friendships, manipulative family relations, and finally drugs, rolling into adulthood as an 'incomplete woman'. But it is undeniable that before/while writing this novel she went through a process of serious soul-searching.
The book’s progression feels urgent, and I was almost as invested as the author herself in understanding how and why things went wrong. Was it a lack of real paternal love, the absent mother (a year of "sleep therapy"), the money, the lies, maybe even sexual abuse? (her desperate searching inevitably leads to an element of fabrication). It is sometimes like reading a therapy journal, and at others like following a criminal investigation. Ciabatti expresses her thoughts and recollections in simple sentences littered with parentheses (that are mostly humorous rather than a hindrance), in which she questions the accuracy of her memories.
I don’t think I’ve ever read something as brutally honest, self-reflective, and self-deprecating as The Most Loved. Ciabatti paints herself and her family in a light that is anything but complimentary, and though she received some backlash for that (namely her own parenting skills, something she says was heavily fictionalised), for me it is what makes the book brilliant.
One or two readers have slighted the novel’s lack of a conclusive ending. But isn’t that what reading auto-fiction is about? The lack of neatly tied up ends, yes, leaves you wanting more, but it also leaves the book and the characters seared into your mind, as frustrated as you are purged.
‘Teresa Ciabatti cries out with grit. In short and incisive sentences, irony is mixed with courage as she dips her pen into unresolved situations mentioning names and surnames with no reticence. She researches her house obsessively to the point of trying to buy it back again after twenty years in order to abandon her fears and reclaim her childhood. There are so many losers but one honourable survivor: the unexpected resilience with which she psychoanalyses herself. And she is running straight for the Premio Strega, even if aware that she is not “the most loved”.' Gabriella Cantafio, Il foglio.
'The Most Loved is an ancient and powerful novel, classic, desperate, noble and harsh to the point of ruthlessness.' Edoardo Nesi, Premio Strega.
English right available
Contact: Serena Di Ceglie
[Translations all my own]