Winner of the 2013 Costa Book Awards, Biography of the Year.
Winner of the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.
The story of Gabriele D'Annunzio, poet, daredevil - and Fascist. In September 1919 Gabriele D'Annunzio, successful poet and occasional politician, declared himself Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern-day Croatia. His intention - to establish a utopia based on his fascist and artistic ideals. It was the dramatic pinnacle to an outrageous career.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett charts the controversial life of D'Annunzio, the debauched artist who became a national hero. His evolution from idealist Romantic to radical right-wing revolutionary is a political parable. Through his ideological journey, culminating in the failure of the Fiume endeavour, we witness the political turbulence of early 20th-century Europe and the emergence of fascism.
In The Pike, Hughes-Hallett addresses the cult of nationalism and the origins of political extremism - and at the centre of the book stands the charismatic D'Annunzio: A figure as deplorable as he is fascinating.
"Hard to beat … a biographical tour de force … a rich, voluptuous treat … a triumph, the biography of the year" (Robert McCrum, ObserverBooks 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 Statesman)
"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 judgmental, 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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Saved by the audio
Highly informative, sometimes repellant
I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in modern history, biography, Italy or the origins of fascism.
I thought it was very well written and rigorously researched. The subject, D'Annunzio, is so complex and full of contradiction that it must have been a daunting task to try and cover every aspect. He is also at times utterly repellant in his behaviour and his utterances, but Lucy Hughes-Hallett manages to maintain a completely neutral tenor and yet retain one's interest.
Although the first 'kaleidoscopic' section with its 'staccato' approach may have worked well in writing, it made for difficult and confusing listening. Purportedly trying to imitate the multi-faceted personality and career of the D'Annunzio, it didn't really succeeded in this any better than the remaining, chronological narrative.
The one sour note for me was in the reading performance. Overall it was very good and the Italian words were well pronounced and unobtrusive. However I was disappointed by what I see as a lack of professionalism when it came to pronouncing words in other languages, obviously less familiar to the reader, particularly French. Very well known French figures and places had their names completely mangled. If you don't know how to pronounce something, why not check beforehand? Even some of the English was poorly pronounced. I blame the producers as much as the reader and this is certainly not the first time that my pleasure in listening to a good book has been marred but this problem.