Niccolò Ammaniti’s Anna is a calamitous yet hopeful tale of survival, loss and companionship. The novel is set in the near future, where a virus, known only as “Red Fever,” has killed the entire adult population. Children, immune from the disease until puberty, prevail as the rulers of civilisation. With the epidemic having spread across Europe to the island of Sicily, siblings Anna and Astor are left to reside in their secluded farmhouse as the sole surviving members of their family. Though only thirteen, elder sibling Anna is forced to adapt to a world filled with ever-growing danger and desolation, and the novel details her struggle for survival whilst avoiding wild dogs, feral youths and a spreading wildfire.
Whilst displaying Anna’s rapid entry into adulthood, Ammaniti does not let the reader forget that she is ultimately still a child. She sobs when she is hurt, she’s scared of the dark and is understandably terrified at the idea of growing up. Though Anna is, for the most part, depicted as focused and resilient, it is the scenes involving her affection and tenderness towards brother Astor that make Anna so enthralling. The most engaging element of the novel is the author’s frequent inclusion of anecdotes and nostalgic stories about the past of each of the characters, which allows the reader to develop a relationship and attachment to them. This, in turn, causes any tragedy or fortune that each character experienced to be felt by the reader also.
Granting all this, the masses of scenic descriptions, though instrumental for the reader to imagine the alluring Italian country-side, occupy multitudes of pages and begin to feel tedious as the book goes on. It is the simplest of human interaction between the characters which make this novel so charming – this is particularly exemplified by Anna, who slowly lets her guard down throughout the novel.
Despite its thrilling premise, the momentum of the novel did not carry through to the end, leaving the reader’s ever-growing anticipation to know the fate of Anna and Astor irritatingly unsatisfied. The author’s decision to end the story at such an odd place allows the fate of the children to be left to the imagination of the reader, as questions are posed but ultimately not answered. This ending is agonisingly charming as, although frustrating, it gives hope for a potential sequel.
Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti.
(Published by Canongate, 2017)