Peter Robb, author of Street Fight In Naples: A Book of Art and Insurrection, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |December 3, 2010

The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

Peter Robb,

author of

Street Fight In Naples: A Book of Art and Insurrection, Midnight in Sicily, M: The Caravaggio Enigma and A Death in Brazil,

the wrong

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born in Toorak in 1946. I started school and finished university in Melbourne [Melbourne Grammar and Melbourne Uni] but in between I lived in New Zealand for a decade and went to school and university in Wellington too.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve a farmer, at eighteen a literary critic and by thirty I didn’t have a clue. I still don’t.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That art was the only thing that mattered.

4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma – erotics and politics done more brilliantly — separately and together — than in any other novel I know. Velázquez‘s Old Woman Cooking Eggs – real people and ordinary life in all their splendour. Little Richard’s Lucille – the irresistible energy of the original rock n roll.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

What is a novel . . .? (BBGuru: Sorry Peter, someone gave you the wrong list of questions! Am mortified.)

6. Please tell us about your latest book… Street Fight In Naples: A Book of Art and Insurrection.

It’s a book about Naples, a city where I lived for a long time. Peter Craven has also called it ‘a landscape of [my] own mind’ and ‘a rich disorganised ruin of a book’ and I quite like that.

(BBGuru: Or, as the publisher puts it... Naples is always a shock. Beauty and squalor like nowhere else in Europe. The only city in Europe whose ancient past still breaks through its layers of history in the irrepressible life of its people. People from all over the early Mediterranean found a seductive and fertile beauty in a wide bay dotted with islands and shadowed by a dormant volcano. Not all of them found what else they were looking for, but they made a great and terribly human city.

Peter Robb’s Street Fight in Naples completes a trilogy begun with Midnight in Sicily and A Death in Brazil. It ranges across nearly three thousand years of Neapolitan life and art, from the first Greek landings in Italy to the time of his own less auspicious arrival thirty something years ago.

It looks at what happened to Naples when in 1503 it became the Mediterranean capital of Spain’s world empire and the base for the Christian struggle with Islam. Naples was a metropolis matched only by Paris and Constantinople, an extraordinary concentration of military power, lavish consumption, poverty and desperation. As the occupying empire went into crisis, exhausted by its wars against Islamists in the Mediterranean and Protestants in the North, the people of Naples paid a dreadful price.

Naples was the teeming city where in 1606 the greatest painter of his age fled from Rome after a fatal street fight. Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio found in Naples an image of his own sense of the age’s crisis, and the human reality of his painting released among the painters of Naples the energies of a great age in European art. Crisis deepened and painting became more radical. And in the middle of the seventeenth century everything erupted in the violence of a revolt by the dispossessed. The people of an occupied city had brought Europe into the modern world. Read a review by Simon West in The Australian – here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

A quickened sense of life, a desire to know more.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Among novelists, Stendhal and Tolstoy. Their energy, clarity, directness blast away the lifeless fine writing of today. They make you see and feel.

(BBGuru: Did you hear that, people!? Peter, I think I love you.)

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To make enough money to keep on going.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Do your thing. Interest people. Don’t worry about what others are doing.

Peter, thank you for playing (and sorry for the mix-up).

A short Bio from Wikipedia:

Peter Robb (born 1946 in Toorak, Melbourne) is an Australian author.

Robb spent his formative years in Australia and New Zealand, and between 1978 and 1992 he spent most of his time in Naples and southern Italy, interspersed with sojourns in Brazil. At the end of 1992 he returned to Sydney.

His first book, Midnight in Sicily, was published in Australia in October 1996. It won the non-fiction prize of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction in 1997.

His second book, M, a biography of the Italian artist Caravaggio, was published in Australia in 1998. The book provoked controversy on its publication in Britain in 2000. In December 1999, he published, Pig’s Blood and Other Fluids, a collection of three crime fiction novellas. In October 2003, Robb published his fourth book, A Death in Brazil, which was named The Age’s non-fiction book of the year for 2004. In October 2010, his book Street Fight In Naples: A Book of Art and Insurrection was published by Allen & Unwin.

He has taught at the University of Melbourne, the University of Oulu in Finland and the Istituto Universitario Orientale in Naples.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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