New Island is bringing out a reinterpretation of Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century plauge classic The Decameron by writer and novelist Carlo Gébler to help provide "stress relief" for readers during the current pandemic.
The project was first conceived by New Island publisher and m.d. Edwin Higel in the first stages of lockdown, and he turned to Gébler as he had been impressed by the author's retelling of Aesop's Fables in 2019 for Head of Zeus. Tales We Tell Ourselves is a selection of some of the stories within Boccacio's work with updated, modern language. New Island holds world rights and will release the book in November this year.
Boccaccio began writing The Decameron as the Black Death swept through his native Florence in the late 1340s—between 1348 and 1350, six out of 10 Florentines died of the plague. The book features seven women and three men decamping to a hillside village outside Florence to escape and there they tell a series of bawdy, funny, erotic and tragic stories. The Decameron and other epidemic-themed classics, such Albert Camus' The Plague, have popped up on global bestseller lists throughout the course of the current pandemic. In September, Scribner announced it was to release what it called a "Covid-era Decameron", an anthology of a modern plague with contributions from 29 writers including Margaret Atwood, Andrew O’Hagan and Colm Tóibín.
Higel said the stories he and Gébler chose to update were selected for their "modernity, radicalism and topicality, [which] we felt would appeal to 21st-century readers". Higel added: "In his re-imagining of the original stories Carlo opted for a more dialogue-driven style of narration. His strategy was to pare down the stories and cull the narrative undergrowth fashionable at the time; all the better to let the material shine. The work flowed so smoothly that sometimes he almost felt as though Boccaccio were looking over his shoulder, approving of the writing."
Eniskillen-based Gébler has written over 25 fiction tiltes, plays, non-fiction works and children's books since his first novel, The Eleventh Summer, was publshed in 1985. His 2015 memoir and biography of his father, The Projectionist, in part chronicled the difficult relationship of his parents, Ernest Gébler and Irish novelist Edna O'Brien.
Higel said that when they planned the title he and Gébler "had initially hoped that the book would provide post-traumatic stress relief at the time of its publication in November—but as it turns out, we were over-optimistic: the virus is still very much with us and readers may want to keep a few stories in reserve, just in case."