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Three O'Clock in the Morning

Three O'Clock in the Morning

A father and son explore Marseilles without sleep.

This is a novel of a specific time and place that makes you sorry and even a little melancholy to leave that time and place behind. The time is 1983. The place is the grimy but lovely French port city of Marseille. Here we find a father and his 18-year-old son, Antonio, passing, by doctor’s orders, two sleepless nights as they wait to see if Antonio’s epilepsy has subsided. Like many fathers and sons, they have left much unsaid over the years: regrets, recriminations, affections, secrets. In language plain and graceful, presented in a svelte translation from the Italian by Curtis, Carofiglio quietly lays their souls bare in allowing them to see each other as human beings for the first time. They walk through sketchy neighborhoods, they indulge in wine and coffee, they see some jazz, they swim in the sea, and they visit a bohemian party. Their primary task is simple: Don’t fall asleep. Instead they walk and they talk—about love, about mathematics (Dad’s speciality), about food, about philosophy, about life. Slowly, without fanfare, they reveal themselves. Here’s Antonio, near the end of their odyssey: “Two nights without sleep weaken you, slow down your reflexes, blur your vision, but they give you a very subtle, precise sense of what really matters.” That subtle precision informs every page, as does a deceptive simplicity laden with all that happens when you’re not paying attention. The novel takes place in a sort of eternal present, a time when all senses are awake. The title comes from a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.” Here those dark nights arrive with shimmering, unforced beauty, filling the pages with jagged moonlight like the finest neorealist film.


A journey by foot: crisp, lean, yet quietly mournful. - Sandy

In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

A coming-of-age novel--a heady union of Before Sunrise and Beautiful Ruins--about a father and his teenage son who are forced to spend two sleepless nights exploring the city of Marseilles, a journey of unexpected adventure and profound discovery that helps them come to truly know each other.

Antonio is eighteen years old and on the cusp of adulthood. His father, a brilliant mathematician, hasn't played a large part in his life since divorcing Antonio's mother but when Antonio is diagnosed with epilepsy, they travel to Marseille to visit a doctor who may hold the hope for an effective treatment. It is there, in a foreign city, under strained circumstances, that they will get to know each other and connect for the first time.

A beautiful, gritty, and charming port city where French old-world charm meets modern bohemia, father and son stroll the streets sharing strained small talk. But as the hours pass and day gives way to night, the two find themselves caught in a series of caffeine-imbued adventures involving unexpected people (and unforeseen trysts) that connect father and son for the first time. As the two discuss poetry, family, sex, math, death, and dreams, their experience becomes a mesmerizing 48-hour microcosm of a lifetime relationship. Both learn much about illusions and regret, about talent and redemption, and, most of all, about love.

Elegant, warm, and tender, set against the vivid backdrop of 1980s Marseille and its beautiful calanques--a series of cliffs and bays on the city's outskirts--Three O'Clock in the Morning is a bewitching coming-of-age story imbued with nostalgia and a revelatory exploration of time and fate, youth and adulthood.

Translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis

Publication Date: 
March 16, 2021