Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado


“In fact, people here dislike suicides. We’re the pariahs of the deceased community, and they avoid us like the plague. We are the ones who discarded the only thing they desire.”

This is a novel I fell in love with back in 2015, one of the few in a list of novels I wish I haven’t yet read so I can read it again for the first time. A book highlighted to an inch of it’s life because the writing is gorgeous. It’s disturbing, a young woman has committed suicide and we follow her in the aftermath. Nothing romantic about it, because suicide is not sexy. As she tells us herself, “No, I didn’t die of love. I really wish I had: I’d be carrying on the legacy of literary figures like Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary. Instead, you recover from love.”  If there were any ideas of weeping lovers on her grave, the reality is nothing of the sort, the only longing, the only hunger lives inside her mother- whom she abandoned with her exit. There is no remedy for death, only a limp eternity and her consuming loneliness which unfortunately didn’t die with her when she took her life, it hitchhiked. As her body rots, her musings remind us that it is far better to be infected with life and all it’s ills than to be silenced by one’s own hands. Just one more suicide in a family that suffers, “Aunt Clara was the pretty sister, my mother the depressed one. The eldest sister was named Lidia but she had drowned in the Cassible River, taking all her adjectives with her.” 

“My name is Dorotea Giglio and I’m full of flies. However much civilization might have trained you to be frightened of people like me, no one’s more scared than I am.” 

It is now four years after her death, and though she may watch life happening, she cannot touch it, nor feel it. Her heart no longer beats, her blood no longer thrums. She hasn’t ascended to any form of heaven and life goes on blissfully unaware of her, as it will one day  without us. We visit the past with her haunting recollections of her family pregnant with sorrows, an absent father, a little girl who never wants to grow up and who absorbs the contagion of depression her mother exhales. A strange child, one who is afraid of her savior Jesus once she starts attending church. A family of sleepwalkers and dreamers of nightmares, women who smile only on accident and with this knowledge who can wonder why she shook off her mortal coil? Sadness grew as her body grew, she feels she is her mother’s parasite and the book is darker and darker still. When she finds love, it is with a cold man, Lorenzo. When she is dead, she wants to tell someone, him… but life moves on… life cannot hear her and all she has is evidence that he has new love, she is nothing but a dead girl in his past. As she says, “My name is an abandoned house.” 

This novel is macabre but somehow in all it’s ghastly horror it is beautiful and tender. In fact, having meant to simply peruse my highlights for this review, I find myself once again plunging into her despair and reading the novel over. Reading tastes vary, we all know this- but this book isn’t really one genre because it is darkly humorous at moments, overflowing with poisonous sorrow, and somehow it celebrates life while discarding it. It remains a personal favorite, and I think if Edgar Allan Poe had a daughter it could be the character Dorotea, or maybe this author. I have been waiting a few years for another novel by Viola Di Grado, as this one still festers inside of me. Nothing yet… I’m waiting here, collecting cobwebs!

I recommend this book, but not to just anyone. It’s eclectic, it’s beautiful in the way of skeleton trees and crumbling haunted houses. Her afterlife is one long terrible wait, as is how I feel waiting for another novel! “Waiting is one long meal, a cannibalism.” Gorgeous novel, one I would be remiss not to share with readers with tastes as strange as my own.

Available Now

Europa Editions