Tobias Jones

Tobias Jones, a former editorial assistant at the LRB, is the author of the bestselling Dark Heart of Italy.

In Padua, on 20 January 1976, a young girl called Margherita Magello was repeatedly stabbed and left for dead. She was discovered by Massimo Carlotto, a 19-year-old student radical and member of Lotta Continua, who tried to save her, and, in doing so, got covered in her blood. She died, he was arrested and, a pawn in the struggle between Lotta Continua and the police, was tried for her...

Diary: postwar history in Italy

Tobias Jones, 8 March 2001

One of the pleasures of living in Italy is watching the way the ‘facts’ of its postwar history slip and slither about. It’s like looking down a child’s kaleidoscope: every few weeks new evidence emerges to twist the lens, causing the colours to spill into disconcertingly different arrangements. Nothing stays in its place. Prompted by the confessions of a politician or

Diary: San Giovanni Rotondo

Tobias Jones, 13 May 1999

At the turn of the century, San Giovanni Rotondo was a tiny village in the rugged Gargano mountains of Puglia, the province which forms the heel and spur of the Italian boot. Even forty years ago it was linked to Manfredonia, the nearby port, only by a mule track which zigzagged down through olive trees to the Adriatic. Now, though, San Giovanni Rotondo welcomes more than six million visitors a year, and has overtaken Lourdes as Europe’s most popular destination for Catholic pilgrims. It has more than a hundred alberghi and hotels, and will soon have a massive new cathedral designed by Renzo Piano. There is also an imposing new hospital, one of Italy’s largest and most modern.

Diary: The Politics of Football

Tobias Jones, 7 May 1998

For all the American ham and glam, the last World Cup Finals were a public relations disaster: the apex of world football frenzy was a dull noscore draw, and had to be decided on penalties. In a previous game, Diego Maradona had run to the corner flag after scoring for the Argentines, only to stare and rant at the camera in such a maniacal manner that all suspicions were confirmed – his euphoria was ephedrine-induced. Andres Escobar, the unfortunate Colombian who scored an own-goal in his team’s unlikely draw against the Americans, was gunned down on his return home by an embittered betting syndicate. And, to make things even worse, Britain wasn’t even represented.’

The Dollar Tree

Tobias Jones, 11 December 1997

Paul Auster is so implicated in his own fictions that it is often hard to tell whether his covert appearances there represent a Modernist textual teasing or a baser vanity; whether his walk-on parts are self-mocking or aggrandising. In City of Glass, the first volume in the New York Trilogy, the writer’s identity is always a plaything: Quinn, the writer, uses the pseudonym William Wilson, who himself writes about the improbably named Max Work, and is mistaken for Paul Auster, ‘of the Auster Detective Agency’. (The ‘Auster’ character always gets the smartest lines in the story, being allowed, for example, to expand on his pet theories about Don Quixote and the difficulties, significantly enough, of representation. ‘Remember: throughout the book Don Quixote is preoccupied by the question of posterity. Again and again he wonders how accurately his chronicler will record his adventures.’) The writer stumbles across characters reading his books, only to be told: ‘It’s no big deal. It’s just a book.’ Then in Leviathan, published some years later, Auster uses the same initials for the narrator, Peter Aaron; and anagrammatic sleight of hand (Delia/Lydia, Iris/Siri: Auster’s real-life loves past and present) further blurs the boundaries between his facts and his fictions.‘

Earl Grey Moments

Tobias Jones, 2 October 1997

The speechless quality of music is much envied and imitated. Spoken language follows in music’s wake, verbalisation a poor second best. The musical metaphors of Romanticism are steeped in linguistic paralysis: as in Shelley, where music ‘vibrates in the memory’ only when ‘soft voices die’. Now, though, with sledgehammer subtlety and schmaltz, music, the piano in particular, tends to be invoked for all the synaesthetic reverberations it can offer. Clichéd images of the musician as mute genius or emotional pygmy crop up everywhere, and bad scripts are bailed out by sonorous soundtracks. Films – the Helfgott biopic or Jane Campion’s truly abysmal The Piano – acquire gravitas by replacing all shades of grey with the stern black and white of the keys. Normally it’s just a cop-out, borrowing the sonorous qualities of one art-form to make up for the artistic failings of another.’’

Diary: On Chess

Tobias Jones, 5 June 1997

It is impossible to win gracefully at chess. No man has yet said ‘Mate!’ in a voice which failed to sound to his opponent bitter, boastful and malicious.

After queuing outside the club for a few hours, our limbs start twitching with tiredness and amphetamines. Vinegar and aftershave waft in the air. We are waiting to get in, watching the twist of lights inside and listening to the thud and slide of distant music. Those in front shuffle forward in their vinyl clothing, gearing up for reckless recreation. Behind us the queue snakes further back; it’s long past midnight, but more people, looking glazed in the rain, keep coming round the corners, out of taxis and off night-buses. Unlikely, but now even this underbelly of society is becoming politicised.


Why not Berlusconi?

21 March 2002

The one thing which no one ever mentions when comparing, as they often do, Berlusconi and Mussolini is TV. Mussolini’s propaganda looks like child’s play set beside the subliminal messages which Mediaset broadcasts for hours every day. TV is Berlusconi’s ‘electronic balcony’, from which he can woo and subdue millions of voters. Switch on the TV in your hotel next time...

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