The location of the terrorist attack of August 1980 was significant. Bologna, a rich and intellectual town, has often been called ‘Red Bologna’ for its reputation as a centre of leftist politics. And today this politically radical city has inspired a young female author to write a crime novel that profiles the rise of sexual violence against women.
In 2010, Barbara Baraldi’s The Girl with the Crystal Eyes introduced a new character into the Italian crime novel – the female vigilante. “[It] originated from a scene I had in my mind of a woman who killed,” says Baraldi, “who killed a man but more than one man, and therefore there arises an important question - ‘what in this day and age brings a woman to kill someone?’”
She removes her magic wand from the top of her hold-up stockings and caresses his throat. He hasn’t time to scream. The artery in his neck has been sliced open with a small bronze razor that looks like a prop from some old film. The blood sprays everywhere, staining the filthy walls.
It covers her.
It colours her.
“In Italy, very often sex crimes remain unpunished,” says Baraldi, “in the sense that men are released immediately, and therefore I thought about creating this provocative character of a woman vigilante who roams the city of Bologna at night which was considered once a calm city, a university city; but in reality it hides a dark side. And this vigilante dresses provocatively and when she is attacked, she kills. She only kills men with bad intentions.
“Certainly current stories in the news affect my novel because when I wrote it, there was an explosion in crimes – almost all of a sexual nature. I remember the most serious one, however, was treated quite lightly: a girl in broad daylight at the bus stop was dragged into the nearest park and raped. So in broad daylight, a young student… I mean, I was very angry when faced with all these things.”
They start laughing.
Two pistol shots.
Two bodies lying on their backs. The blood of one merges with the blood of the other in a macabre dance of bodily fluids.
Baraldi’s writing has a cinematic quality to it that readers can quickly relate to at once. She employs the literary equivalent of fast cutting and cutting between scenes to dramatic effect. There is a minimum of exposition, a minimum of explanation, as though she dares the reader to keep up with her. The reader may struggle initially, but it will be worth it in the end. Baraldi is of the generation where film has informed her writing as much as anything she has read.
She found her horror writing style from literary classics familiar to British readers. “Lately I have been dubbed an exponent of new Italian Goth,” says Baraldi. “I grew up with romanticism, and with mystery, and I’m passionate about Mary Shelley, and the atmosphere of Dracula.”
“When I was a child,” she continues, “I read fairy tales. What struck me was the fact that these were actually rather violent fairy tales being told: the Wicked Witch, or Bluebeard who hanged his wives in a room you could not enter without staining the key with blood.”
She takes the hairpin from her hair and drives it into his eye, punching through to the brain.
Barbara Baraldi has to make her way in a society that is not entirely propitious to women. There were several avenues of protest open to her, and she chose a rebellious, punkish mode. She has attracted a younger readership, one that is not easily shocked or squeamish. She is one among several female Italian crime writers, a set of women who do not write cosy novels of the Miss Marple genre. The books of the new Italian women are bloody and edgy, and a wonderful opposition to their contemporary male counterparts.
[From BBC Four’s Italian Noir – The Story of Italian Crime Fiction.]