Books

Fever by Jonathan Bazzi review: Eye-opening memoir, not-so-good novel

Bazzi’s book works best as a look at modern poverty in Italy and its disaster of a health system

City Centre Milan

Photo: Igor Saveliev / Pixabay

Jonathan Bazzi’s Strega Prize-shortlisted Fever comes to us through a translation by Alice Whitmore. A work of autofiction, it tells the story of Bazzi’s HIV diagnosis in their early 30s and the turmoil they went through to get a diagnosis. The novel is also interspersed with chapters dedicated to chronicling their tumultuous childhood in Rozzano, a ghetto suburb of Milan, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly differentiates this book from a memoir.

The designation is important because as a memoir, Fever is good, but as a novel it leaves a lot to be desired. As a memoir, Bazzi’s book is an eye-opening investigation into modern poverty in Italy and its disaster of a health system. The work very much stands as a kind of Italian counterpart to what Édouard Louis is doing in France with that same anger that informed Who Killed My Father?. Yet, Fever insists that it is a novel and thus it must be judged that way. 

Fever isn’t a great novel. There isn’t much characterisation outside of our central protagonist and a lot of the time you’re left to fill in the blanks of Jonathan’s life yourself. They have a partner but you never learn much about them. Bazzi spends the first hundred or so pages of the novel feeling incredibly ill and drawing out whether the results of their HIV test is going to be positive or not – a fact revealed very prominently in the book’s blurb. Overall you are left with a novel that feels overlong and half-baked. I was left wanting so much more.

Fever by Jonathan Bazz

Fever by Jonathan Bazzi is out now (Scribe, £14.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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