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5.0 out of 5 stars The psychological roller-coaster of obsession, July 17, 2010
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This review is from: As A Man Grows Older (Hardcover)
As A Man Grows Older (English title given by James Joyce; the Italian is Senilita) was the second of only four novels written by the Hector Schmitz, the Italian businessman known to the world now as the Italian writer Italo Svevo. He wrote this and his first book, A Life, in his thirties to little acclaim. But when Schmitz began taking English lessons from Joyce in 1907, he dared give the 25 year-old budding author the novels to read. Joyce loved them and became a life-long admirer. And in 1923, Joyce was instrumental in getting Svevo best known work, Zeno's Conscience, published. It is because of this that we can now read Svevo's great work.

As A Man Grows Older is the story of Emilio Brentani, a thirtyish business man who is obsessed with a young woman named Angiolina. We follow Emilio's unstable thoughts and feelings as he tries to understand and control his love for her. Anyone's who's been in love, especially of the unrequited variety, will recognize most of what goes on in his mind. Emilio is happy when he is with Angiolina, but when he is not, he is often pre-occupied with seeing her again, or jealous from rumors he's heard about her with other men. And over time, we begin to understand that Angiolina is in fact a liar and unworthy of Emilio's trust. But, even when it should also be clear to Emilio, he still finds new ways of rationalizing her behavior. He fluctuates between wanting to free himself of this painful love, but then tries to manipulate her into bed or devise some stratagem to see her again. He even pulls the old trick of leaving her in hopes of making her see how much she loves him, only to find himself going back with her. She sleeps with him now, so perhaps his tactics have worked. But the reader will know from very early on in this book that their relationship is an accident waiting to happen.

We also hear and see from Stefano Balli, Emilio's sculptor friend who is successful with women. As such, he counsels Emilio about how to handle Angiolina. But when they go on a double date, Angiolina flirts with Balli, adding to Emilio's anxiety in a way that never truly heals, and almost comes between the friends. The other main character is Amalia, Emilio's sister and roomate. She is unbearably lonely and in love with Balli. Emilio's neglect of Amalia for his obsession of Angiolina leads to the critical event of the book, and will leave most readers heartbroken.

Svevo interest in psychoanalysis pervades all his work. Here he is almost clinical in his rendering of Emilio's thoughts. Yet we care about him, despite his foolishness. There is no plot, yet we are pulled forward with desire to see where events and Emilio will turn next. As such, Svevo's work fits in a nice spot between the realists and the modernists in its ability to teach and entertain.

As A Man Grows Older is considered by some to be a better and more complete work of art than his episodic masterpiece. I agree with that assessment. I felt more satisfied when I put this book down than when I finished Zeno. This novel is wonderful work of art, filled with every emotion imaginable. When we read this, we will remember what it's like to love, to be anxious about love, and to lose love.
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