The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

From humour to mystery – the lure of ‘Innuendo’

Sunday, 20 October 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 25 days ago

Innuendo is Merlin Publishers' new collection of short stories, co-authored by veteran playwright Anthony Portelli and young adult fiction writer Antoinette Borg.

Portelli, twice winner of the Francis Ebejer Award, and Antoinette Borg, winner of the National Book award and Best Emerging Author, got together for this book a quattro mani, to explore adult fiction for the first time. The result is 12 gripping short stories which take the reader across the world from Malta and Gozo to Venice, Palestine, Spain, Portugal, Sicily, Vienna and Sri Lanka.

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It is the perfect book to dip in and out of; each story with shocking twists and intriguing plots, at times mysterious and obscure, at others humorous or sensual. The common factor throughout is the fast pace which keeps the reader hooked, captivated and absorbed, page after page. Here are little teasers about each story:  

 

'Sparali jekk jogħġbok'

James, 68 years old, retired and single, is living out his sunset years as he always has: hassle-free and everything to plan and on schedule. But one morning the proverbial blast from the distant past appears between the pages of his Sunday newspaper. Ruth Kaminski, who had entered his life in post-war Palestine like a whirlwind but then disappeared in a shroud of mystery, is now in Malta and she's looking for him. She's here to give him a long-overdue explanation about her sudden disappearance all those years ago. But will she tell him everything?

 

'Oqgħod bil-għaqal, e?'

Victoria kisses Peter goodbye as he leaves their house in Kingston upon Thames, heading to Rome for yet another business trip. "Be a good girl while I'm away, ok?" he teases. Victoria smiles, closes the door and returns inside. Unhurriedly she clears away the breakfast dishes, then brings out her passport, flight tickets and a packed suitcase which she had prepared secretly the day before. Some time later she too is in a taxi on her way to the airport. No one knows where she is off to and what she has in mind.

 

It's nice, the tattoo

What happens when a big, swarthy Maltese pig farmer meets a petite, vegetarian Latvian nurse? Sparks fly at Mater Dei and it's love at first sight, or rather, at first bandage. Granted, the affair is somewhat unwieldy, but given time, everything clicks into place and Turu and Lara seem to be destined to a "happily ever after". There's just a tiny glitch, the size of a little flower tattooed on Lara's wrist. Why doesn't she want to speak to Turu about it? And who is the quirky visitor who turns up at the pig farm one fine day, looking for Lara?

 

'Issa m'għandekx irbit'

One cold February morning, Malta woke up to two horrifying news stories. A fire had broken out in a farm near Għar Dalam, followed by an explosion which destroyed the whole building, and it was yet to be established whether there were any victims under the rubble. Separately, a three-month-old baby was snatched from her cot in the dead of night. Her distraught mother recounted how she found her daughter's cot upturned and empty, and the bedroom window forced open. Speculations about these two tragic happenings were rife, but no one got any close to the truth: that the two incidents were related and that four middle-aged ladies were very much involved.

 

Doggie, sit!

Lippu groaned and turned over in his bed as his mother shouted from downstairs. It was past nine o'clock, his toast was getting cold, he was due to report at the labour office, and maybe, just maybe, he would run an errand for her. The eternally-optimistic mother also hoped to interest her 29-year-old unemployed son in doing a little paint job for one of the neighbours. But her darling Lippu is a lazy good-for-nothing and lifting any more than his little finger couldn't be further from his mind. Little did Lippu know, as he kicked his night shorts across the room, that his loitering was about to drag him into a terrifying adventure that would almost cost him his life... and earn him a brand new nickname!

 

'Nista' naqdik f'xi ħaġa oħra, senora?'

Miguel is 16 years old and spending his summer days working as a delivery boy at Gregorio's grocery shop in a quaint old part of Barcelona. Things start to seriously heat up when he meets Isabella, a beautiful and mysterious new client. Miguel dutifully delivers her shopping to her home every Saturday, and at Isabella's invitation he gets to stay over for a chat and some hot chocolate to die for. His visits get longer, and more eagerly-anticipated, every week. One day, while frantically looking for some medicine for Isabella, Miguel opens a drawer that should have remained closed, and the air between them starts getting stranger, and darker...

 

'Dat-twerżiq kollu ...'

At a boisterous wedding in a small Sicilian village in the early 1920s, under the watch of the Duce staring out of his picture on a wall, guests are drinking, gallivanting and gossiping wildly. They cannot fathom why on earth a well-educated girl from Palermo, daughter of a big head in the Fascist party, would want to bury herself in tiny Santa Ninfa, where only two persons are literate and the life of the entire village revolves around the vineyard owned by the groom's father. Later that night, the same guests are awakened by bouts of hysterical screaming coming from the newly-weds' house. What lies beneath poor Carmelina's screams, and what does married life have in store for her?

 

'Imbasta titqarben kuljum!'

Miss Rita, an unmarried teacher, has always been the quintessential good girl. Too good to be true in fact, according to the village gossipmongers. Her life is dedicated wholly to her ailing parents and to her students. When her parents pass on, Rita breathes the air of freedom and inches out of her shell. She freshens up her looks, refurbishes the house, rekindles her relationship with her foster brother and finds romance. Gossipmongers' conversations heat up into a blaze as Rita's observed behaviour takes on an unfamiliar pattern ... and her body takes on an unfamiliar shape. In time Rita wakes up to a cruel reality and then unleashes a side of her no one knew she had.

 

'U jien Picasso'

David takes one month off work, books a one-way train journey to Vienna and is off on a mid-life jaunt leaving his family behind. At a cafeteria in Rome's Stazione Termini, a beautiful woman with a bohemian look mistakes him for someone else. She apologises and turns to leave but, ever the pleasure-seeker, David can't let a delicacy pass by unsavoured, and he offers her a coffee. It turns out that Emilie is headed for Vienna as well, and she reappears next to him on the train several times along the journey. There is an aura of mystery around Emilie that David cannot quite explain, and he is bowled over. At journey's end she invites David to meet her in Vienna, but when he turns up at the appointed place, what he finds is not what he expects.

 

'Int il-ġdid, hux?'

In the turbulent Malta of the late 1950s, young John Carabott is thrilled to bag himself a government job as a clerk. He is initially nervous but with time he settles in and develops a pleasant working relationship with his immediate boss, Mr Balan, a taciturn Indian man. Meanwhile the political atmosphere is heating up and one day Mintoff's impassioned resignation speech is heard through the crackling of Rediffusion sets across the island. "Is-siegħa tal-prova waslet," he declares, and Malta goes up in arms against its oppressive colonial rulers. Somehow John and Mr Balan find themselves at Paola Hill right at the heart of the violent riots of 28 April 1958.

 

'Tmurx!'

It's 1993 and Noel and Sylvia's relationship, which started in their Sixth Form years, is sadly heading downhill. They have been trying to conceive for several years and they have seen their burning teen romance gradually give way to scheduled love-making under the watchful eye of medical professionals. Noel has had enough and wants to start the process for adoption, but Sylvia won't hear of it. When Noel is asked by his boss to attend a business conference in Sri Lanka, he accepts without hesitation. Sylvia begs him not to go, as the trip will coincide with a particularly stressful part of her cycle, but Noel can't turn back. In Sri Lanka his heart goes out to a little girl begging for money in the streets, but meanwhile Sylvia is not answering his calls. What will he return home to?

 

'Żomm wiċċek mgħotti'

Belmiro is the sixth and youngest son of Gaspar and Flavia Torres and he is unbelievably ugly. His appearance is shocking to everyone but the worst reaction comes from his father who, on returning from a fishing expedition to see his newborn son, is not just stunned but also outraged. Surely this hideous creature could not be his son. As he grows up Belmiro's mother showers him with unconditional love, but his father keeps refusing to acknowledge him. Everyday Belmiro carries the pain of his father's rejection and disdain, and wishes he were a fish. He believes that deep under the sea there is a world full of love where he would be accepted and where his outer appearance wouldn't matter at all...

 

'Innuendo' is available for sale from all leading bookshops or directly from merlinpublishers.com


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