Excerpt from Three O'Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Three O'Clock in the Morning

A Novel

by Gianrico Carofiglio

Three O'Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio X
Three O'Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 192 pages
    Apr 5, 2022, 192 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt


I can't say when it started. Maybe I was seven, maybe a little older, I don't remember exactly. When you're a child, it's not clear to you what's normal and what isn't. Come to think of it, it's not all that clear when you're an adult either.

About once a month, something strange and rather distressing would happen to me. Without warning, I would notice an absence, a feeling of detachment from the world around me, yet at the same time, my senses would become more acute.

Usually, we select the stimuli that come to us from the outside world. We are surrounded by sounds, smells, all kinds of visible entities. But we aren't objective; we don't hear everything that bounces off our eardrums, we don't smell everything that reaches our nose, we don't see everything that hits our retinas. The brain decides which perceptions to become aware of, which information to register.

All the rest stays out; we are accustomed to excluding details, and yet it's all there. If we wanted to notice all of it, we could.

Stop reading and concentrate on the noises around you, the noises you weren't conscious of until a few seconds ago. You may be in a quiet room, but you'll still detect the sound of some distant equipment, a rustling, a humming, voices—some close, some farther away—whose words you can't make out but are there. And you'll become aware of the movements, the vibrations produced by your body: your breathing, your heartbeat, the gurgling of your digestive system.

It may not be a pleasant sensation. For me, it certainly wasn't. Now I know that during these episodes my brain stopped making selections and just let everything in. For a few minutes, I would be unable to speak, and I would just sit there, as if I were drunk.

For years, I never told anybody about it. I thought it was just a normal part of the way I was, and besides, I wouldn't have known what to say. I didn't have the words to describe the experiences.

Then one day I happened to be in the home of a classmate of mine, Ernesto, the son of an officer in the Carabinieri who lived in a vast service apartment. We were playing Subbuteo in the dining room, having just eaten toffees—God knows why I remember that detail.

His mother was sitting in an armchair. I think she was knitting.

I was just about to score a goal and suddenly, with a violence I had never experienced before, I was assaulted by a terrible cacophony of noise that arrived like a river in full flood, swollen with debris. The impact was so powerful that, for a few seconds, I lost consciousness.

I came to in an armchair, the same one where Ernesto's mother had previously been sitting. She was leaning over me, stroking my face, and speaking in a worried tone.

"Antonio, Antonio, how do you feel?"

"Fine," I replied, tentatively.

"What happened to you?"

"What happened to me?"

"You weren't speaking, and it seemed like you couldn't hear. Then you fainted."

The noise had gone, but I was still confused and couldn't say anything. Then Ernesto's mother called my mother and told her what had happened. When I got home, I was subjected to another interrogation.

"What happened to you, Antonio?"

"I don't know. I mean, nothing strange."

"Ernesto's mom says they were speaking to you and you weren't answering, as if you were dazed or asleep."

"It happens sometimes."

"What do you mean, it happens?"

I made an effort to describe the thing that occasionally happened to me and which appeared in a more aggressive form that afternoon.

The feeling that someone was playing a drum in my chest. My breathing, so heavy as to convince me that if I got distracted, if I stopped thinking about breathing, I would choke to death.

The most ordinary sounds transformed into a tangled din.

And on top of that, there was another thing that happened to me with some frequency: the impression that I'd already lived through the moment I was currently experiencing. Before long, I would be told that it was called déjà vu and was a relatively common phenomenon. But back then, I didn't know that, and there were times when I felt as if I were living in a world of ghosts.

Excerpted from Three O'Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio. Copyright © 2021 by Gianrico Carofiglio. Excerpted by permission of Harper Via. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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