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The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Fourth Estate, RRP£12.99, 704 pages

Hughes-Hallett’s biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, The Pike, was announced this week as the winner of the UK’s most prestigious non-fiction award, the Samuel Johnson prize. D’Annunzio was Mussolini’s favourite author, a poet-aviator who became an Italian war hero and prototype fascist.

D’Annunzio has been a difficult quarry for biographers, his penchant for cocaine-filled orgies notwithstanding. Hughes-Hallett sees him as an important figure in the evolution of Italian politics and literature and describes him as “a brilliant pasticheur” – a man likened by a contemporary to a lurking pike, snapping at passing fads and influences.

Structurally The Pike can be confusing, the chronology leaping backwards and forwards, and a d’Annunzian influence shows perhaps in the desire to shock. Otherwise, this is a serviceable biography of a man who was more of a poseur, really, than a writer.

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