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January 21, 2014

Book Notes - Marina Mander "The First True Lie"

The First True Lie

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The First True Lie's tragic story is compellingly told by its young protagonist, who is as precocious as he is unforgettable.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"A slim but elegantly carved look into the inner life of an orphaned child."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Marina Mander's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The First True Lie:

Introduction: "In my heart," Moby

When I started thinking about an imaginary soundtrack for my novel The First True Lie, I knew it would be a very interesting challenge, and may be fun as well! I didn't imagine that it would be too difficult, as the idea of making a movie from this novel is always in my mind. But when I began working on it more seriously I realized it wasn't such an easy task, because of the high risk of being too sentimental or didactic. At the same time, as the main character is a young boy, I couldn't indulge in overly sophisticated choices. A soundtrack has to underline or create a counterpoint to the narrative atmosphere, not overwhelm it. And the lyrics' meaning was another issue. The First True Lie is in a certain way a love story, but not in the usual sense.

The novel tells the story of Luca, a young boy who lives with his mother in a big city. One day his mother doesn't wake up…

Through his neverending monologue Luca tries to investigate adults' language and their world, hoping to somehow succeed in getting by, while hiding his awful reality.

"They always tell you that you shouldn't tell lies, but without lies I'd already be in a orphanage. This, in any case, is my first true lie."

The story considers our intimate fear of being abandoned:we all have a little Luca inside us, and when we feel alone and hopeless we often can't do anything else but use our imagination to overcome the difficulties.

Even if loneliness is the fil rouge of the story, some flash-backs, dreams and inventions allow the reader to breathe, from time to time, a lighter and humorous atmosphere:

I want to be up in my heart…

The soundtrack follows different moods;. I've found them digging in my favorite iTunes library and in my memory.
1. "You're Really Nowhere at All,"  Sarah James Morris
Luca never knew his father, so he feels like a half-orphan. But…where and who is Luca's father?

In several occasions I've enjoyed Sarah Jane Morris performing at the Blue Note jazz club in Milan. She has an incredible voice and a rather large mouth, as if she were a female Mick Jagger. I remember when she presented "Where it hurts," the album she wrote after her divorce from David Coulter (ex-Pogues member).

This song could have been written by Luca's mother: Luca's father has disappeared and, even if she "every now and then tries out a new father", the telephone doesn't ring anymore the way she wishes it would:

You're a beach without a summer, the Clash without Joe Strummer.
2. Luca's theme: "Everybody Hurts," R.E.M.
One morning Luca's mother doesn't wake up, maybe she's too tired, maybe she has taken too many sleeping pills, maybe she's dead. Luca decides not to tell anybody what's going on because he doesn't want to be an orphan at all, to be compelled to live in an orphanage, the place of every child's nightmare. He also doesn't want to abandon his beloved cat Blue. So…

When you feel alone, hold on.

There's hope in this song, despite the drama.
3. Luca's mother deepest voice: "Mary of Silence," Mazzy Star
The First True Lie is also about metropolitan loneliness: a single mother without social relationships or relatives or anybody to count on, a young woman without enough strength to carry all the responsibilities on her shoulders. Nobody realizes the depth of her difficulty and depression.

This could seem like an extreme situation, but we all know that beyond the facade of normality any drama can take place. You don't need to be poor or isolated to feel lost and scared in a big, often heartless city.

Hope Sandoval's voice and her almost psychedelic poetry aptly evokes Luca's nightmares about his mother. I love this warm and moving song, a voice that comes from our souls' deepest cry. I imagine such a desperate sound whispering from the back side of a closed door – Luca's mother room – like an embodied bad dream…or a sad lullaby.

Shivering in myself…

(And, maybe, I imagine Luca's mother as beautiful as Sandoval, with her beautiful name: Hope!)

4. The cat Blue and his blues song: "Sleep at Night," Marvin Pontiac
Luca's mother loves blues, that's why their cat is named Blue.

(To tell the truth, the cat is called Blue because I lived for 16 years with a wonderful Russian Blue cat who encouraged me with his silent and clever understanding to keep on writing.)

Blue is the only friend Luca can really talk to. Luca takes care of him but, obviously, Blue looks after Luca as well, as every cat does with his beloved owner.

Marvin Pontiac has a marvelous meowing voice.

If my spirit comes to you and floats across the ceiling, (…) you can't be frightened..

From another point of view, this song represents another true lie.

Marvin Pontiac never existed, he is John Lurie's lie. The following is from a John Lurie interview I found:

"Some people were angry. I didn't do it to be mean, I did it to create a world. What's odd to me is how differently people hear it when they realized it's me and not some African guy killed by a bus. I finally proved a white man can play the blues, I proved it. The music is completely real, completely organic and real, it doesn't feel like some kind of manufactured fake thing, it's as real as can be, I have no doubts about that."

John Lurie pretended to be a kind of African singer; Luca pretended to be a kind of adult.
5. Luca's loneliness: "True Love Waits," Radiohead
Day after day Luca keeps his terrible secret; he goes to school, he prepares a little food, trying to live his normal life as if he was a single boy, all of a sudden grown up, and not a totally abandoned child.
His secret prayer is, however: Just don't leave.
6. Remembering the last holiday in Italy:"Era de Maggio," Misia e Avion Travel
Luca remembers the happiest moments of his previous life—namely, a holiday with his mother in a beautiful Italian city. They went to Venice, but it could also be Naples.

This very popular Italian song appears in the John Turturro's movie Passion. The Avion Travel version with Misia works on a fado contamination. Fado means "destiny" and "saudade" means nostalgia for something lost.
E diceva: "Core, core!
core mio, luntano vaje,
tu mme lasse, io conto ll'ore...
chisà quanno turnarraje!"
Rispunnev'io: "Turnarraggio
quanno tornano li rrose...
si stu sciore torna a maggio,
pure a maggio io stóngo ccá...
Si stu sciore torna a maggio,
pure a maggio io stóngo ccá."

7.Luca's flashback  (when his childhood was a real childhood):

"Lopagan Island," Bruno Nicolai
This piece comes from an 1967 Italian movie soundtrack: Agente Speciale LK OST. The composer, Bruno Nicolai, used to work with the very famous musician Ennio Morricone. This music sounds like Luca's nicest memories and dreams, expressing at the same time all the lightheartedness a child can feel.

8.Luca's winter imagination: "Frosti," Bjork
When reality overcomes imagination, a stronger imagination will save you.

Words, stories, and music will never leave you alone.

Winter is getting colder and colder: Luca imagines his mother hibernating, hoping to make her wake up again. He tries to turn the drama into a fairytale with a happy ending.
9. Luca dreaming a perfect day with his schoolmate Antonella:
"Perfect Day," Lou Reed and Antony Hegarty

Luca desires nothing more than a kind of "normal" life. He imagines himself grown up, spending a nice day with his schoolmate Antonella, his secret love.
Just a perfect day
Feed animals in the zoo
Then later a movie, too
And then home
Oh, it's such a perfect day
I'm glad I spent it with you…

It will be another delusion: at a certain point in the story the short dialogue between the two makes all of Luca's inhibited anger explode.

Hegarty's voice adds something disturbing in this wonderful song, a kind of epiphany.
10. "Fretless," R.E.M.
This song appears in the Wim Wenders Until the end of the World movie.

Luca's voice in my imagination is like Michael Stipe's voice, always sweet but with a bitter and melancholic aftertaste, so the open-ended conclusion of the story is: Don't talk to me about being alone.

Marina Mander and The First True Lie links:

Kirkus review
Metazen review
MostlyFiction Book Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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