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by Tonino Benacquista and Emily Read, trans.
Bitter Lemon Press, January 2010
277 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 1904738435

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There's a new family in the small French town of Cholong-sur-Avre. The father, Fred Blake, says he's there to write a history of the Allied landings in Normandy. His wife Maggie throws herself into all the local good causes. And children Warren and Belle start to make their own waves at school.

Except this American family isn't who they say they are. For Fred is better known as Giovanni Manzoni, a Mafia boss who grassed on his colleagues, and who is now being shifted around France at some speed by the FBI witness protection scheme to keep him safe from the hefty bounty on his head.

The snag is, Fred's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and also seems incapable of living a low-key and quiet life… And young Warren looks like being a chip off the old block, if ever there was one, with the protection racket he's set up at school. You also wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of the womenfolk either, as Maggie demonstrates her own methods for dealing with racist supermarket managers, and Belle sees off lecherous teenagers in some style.

BADFELLAS is Sopranos Goes to Europe, although it's the version you can probably show your maiden aunt. There's not a "you fat fuck!" in sight, and you won't be reading this book through your fingers.

Tonino Benacquista – born in France of Italian parents – uses humour and satire, rather than gross-out, to get his message across. BADFELLAS is exuberant and larger than life, helped by Emily Read's sprightly translation, but with an underlying spine of sadness and steel to it.

There's no glorying of crime from Benacquista – he hammers his points home with black humour (just once or twice a touch heavy-handedly). But there are a host of stick-in-the-mind classic scenes, including Fred's encounter with a plumber, and his guest appearance at the town's film society.

BADFELLAS is a real romp, even if the ending turns into something out of a comic book. You've got to love a book whose front cover has a 'don't mess with me' pooch on the front and a note from the publishers which says: "The names of the characters depicted in this work have been changed to protect their identity. Similarly, the picture of the dog on the cover is not that of the Australian Cattle Dog Malavita who is currently at large."

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2010

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