When Sellerio published Il bacio della maestra in 1992, making Cesare De Marchi known to a wider circle of readers, the critics showed a certain perplexity in their evaluation of the book, in assigning it to any particular literary genre. One, sticking more to the contents, spoke of the melancholy of memory; another spoke of its «chaste and stylised realism». But, when considering the facts, it was not difficult to see that the infant eye, attentive and amazed, is neither melancholic nor realistic. Only the abundant details and the unusual linguistic precision of the texts could make you think of some form of realism, and for the rest adding the adjectives «chaste and stylised» would seem to confirm how little that same critic was convinced of his own definition.
Right from the opening page what stands out with absolute clarity is the crippling subjectivity of the narration; and the very fact that in the final chapter the story briskly moves from the third to the first person should suffice to demonstrate that there is no omniscient author behind these pages observing with detachment the story he tells.
The facts related are never independent of the eye observing them or the voice describing them, on the contrary they are always decisively subject to their influence: for example the chapter dedicated to the game of football when the ball flying towards the goal slows down in its flight for a moment to reveal signs and scratches on its leather surface. True, this subjectivity could derive from its being an autobiographical text (in fact the sub-title Scene di una biografia infantile suggests that it is the author's biography); but the fact remains that all or almost all of De Marchi's other works, from La malattia del commissario to Una crociera are characterised by a similar subjectivity. A further distinctive trait in Il bacio della maestra is its radical lack of sentimentality: situations that could serve as a pretext for a melodramatic scene are, quite the contrary, presented with surgical icyness: for example, the above-quoted opening scene, in which the boy reacts with amazement and a spontaneous sense of guilt when he learns of his own illness.
Once the main character has started telling the story in the first person, he sees in his own lack of sentimentality a form of rebellion and, at the same time, of liberation. Thoughts, musical tastes of his brief past now appear mawkish, and the figure of the grandmother to whom he ascribes his past way of being and feeling, is spurned, not without anguish.