The Strega Award is no longer an era of announced winners

It is January 24, 2018, the first time I hear that Marco Missiroli will win the 2019 Strega Prize. The book is not yet ready. A week earlier, in mid-January 2018, the Corriere della Sera is dedicating an interview to Missiroli for her passage from Feltrinelli to Einaudi. There must be a special interest in this book if a change of team ends up on the first Italian newspaper. “I’ve been working on it mentally for two years and will require at least three years of writing,” says Missiroli. At the time, the release date is still uncertain: it is scheduled for 2019-2020.

The novel is released Tuesday, February 12, 2019. Not even a week after the release of Loyalty (Einaudi), Repubblica officially presents the novel «in the odour of Strega». And within a month, at the end of February, the forecasts stand despite the criticism. Baudino writes in La Stampa, that the book: “Splashes in the head with the best-selling books, but also with those, more unofficial and very subjective, of the bluntest books”. If you present a book as an announced masterpiece, literary criticism awakens from the coma. Baudino reports Missiroli’s thesis “on how the voice that gives him the sure winner” was born. Missiroli makes the hypothesis that “in some way, his passage from Feltrinelli to Einaudi and therefore – alludes Baudino – a promise of the publishing house to tear him from the competition”.

In fact for months – if not more than a year before the release – it is given as the winner of the Witch, but we are in Italy in 2019 and the winners, the rich, the prepared, the exposed people, all those in their life have reached a goal or have had a stroke of luck or are privileged for merit or for bad luck, they are seen as suspects. And above all, in 2019 people are in fashion and then they are no longer in fashion. In politics the consents last a season, the leaders are acclaimed and unloaded by the voters at every election. One day you are the saviour of the homeland, the next day you wake up and you are the cause of all ills. Even for writers, it works a bit like that. The rumours of Missiroli’s victory run endlessly, the voices are true when they are many and when they all say the same thing, the voices are true if they permeate the net, if they are viral, the voices at a certain point turn into facts and there is a mysterious moment in which the voices turn against you and bite you. The voices first benefit you, bring curiosity to your work, then push you towards success, go out of style, it’s your moment, but the moment you are about to enjoy fame the wind can turn. Missiroli’s voice of the Witch winner has become a fact, it was exactly as ifMissiroli had already won it, and then everyone against the announced winner. Fame, visibility, here is that someone will begin to distrust you. Behind every good result, there is a plot, behind every privilege a whole caste is uncovered. As soon as a little power is added – legitimate or inferior or immoral, it doesn’t matter – an army of protesters is raised that only wants to throw coins. Are you a winner? I don’t like you anymore, I will vote against you. In 2019 the protest vote is the only criterion to be sure of changing the world.

Until a few years ago the winners announced of the Strega prize won the Strega prize. On the evening of 2013, while at the Nymphaeum of Villa Giulia he was awarded the Walter Siti prize, the evil ones indicated Francesco Piccolo, who was wandering among the tables, as a future winner. In fact, it would have been. The winners announced were Siti, Albinati, Nesi, Pennacchi, Piperno (although during the final evening it was bad). Everything has always gone according to plan. But since the Witch is much more than a literary prize and reflects and absorbs the changes in society, in these years there is nothing worse than the voices that give you for winning.

Teresa Ciabatti was the first to enter the Strega as a safe pope and to leave the Cardinal ninfeo. She is the one who tells it, in the Corriere della Sera, immediately after losing, with a piece entitled “Chronicle of my defeat”: «Before arriving at the day of triumph, there have been strenuous months, especially for me who according to the newspapers are the favourite. You win, Teresa Ciabatti ». Even in that case the rumours that for months had given her as a, all the clamour around the release of her book, first benefited her, then the idea that she had practically won the Witch turned into her worst opponent. Missiroli has lost perhaps because this was not his best book and some critics have cut him short. But there is too much fury in that third place, with so much detachment from the first (228 Scurati votes, 127 Cibrario, 91 Missiroli). Perhaps it has also lost because the waves must be taken at the right time, so they bring you in triumph, otherwise, they will break on you. Scurati (who was also reproached by Galli Della Loggia for some historical inaccuracies) he took the wave of consensus a few weeks before the prize and the wave led him to cling to the bottle and send down a litre of liquor.

This story has so many morals. First: books must live their natural life, useless to force and generate hype. Second: if it happened to Scurati, twice a loser for a few votes, it may be that sooner or later it will be up to Missiroli to win, with his best book. Third: be careful, promote with caution on social networks, because they are treacherous animals. Last: the new regulation of the Witch makes everything slimy, the era of the announced winners is over.