The competing social forces emerging in 1980s Italy are somewhat clumsily embodied through Pieri’s many characters, whose variously querulous, corrupt and sexually aggressive behaviours are as monstrous as any sculpture to be found in the artist’s garden. It’s an unevenly written novel, though, and the reader’s instinctive sympathy for Annamaria might not be enough to get them through.
In a mere 288 pages, The Garden of Monsters succeeds as both an epic family saga and a tender Bildungsroman — a breadth of scope enabled by Pieri’s masterful storytelling (though her elegant prose sometimes lacks fluidity in Liesl Schillinger’s translation). Monsters aren’t confined to the garden. They’re the leftwing intelligentsia who fail to see the contradiction in their disdain for the rural classes. They’re the fathers and brothers who don’t see cooking and cleaning as worthy of their time. But an escape is offered in this richly rendered tale. As Niki and her beautiful but beastly sculptures show, art has the power to “annihilate fear”.