Wednesday, January 29, 2020

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (novel #142)

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino


“The novels I prefer,” she says, “are those that make you feel uneasy from the very first page…” ~ Ludmilla

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is a very unusual novel. It is a frame story, employing metafiction. It is the story of a reader, two readers actually, trying to read. Philosophically, I’d say it is a story about the love of reading.

It is marvelously clever, though a bit confusing on first read. Each chapter begins with second person narrative explaining something to you, the reader, about the nature of your reading. It is filled with wonderful advice about how to enjoy the reading experience, such as…
…having your feet up is the first condition for enjoying a read.

Or asking before you begin…
Do you have to pee? 

After the second person narrative, begins a metafictional first chapter – about a reluctant traveler, on a clandestine mission, who misses his contact in a foreign train station. It’s quite compelling, leaving you wanting more, but next comes another second person narrative explaining why you cannot continue reading that story. The pattern continues throughout the book: second person narrative, a completely new metafictional first chapter, again interrupted, continued reading impossible, followed by another second person narrative and another new metafictional first chapter.

The second person narrative is the real story.

Though I have to admit, each of the metafictional first chapters are quite captivating.

The frustrated reader meets a fellow frustrated reader, and the two share a wild and ridiculous adventure continuously trying to find the next chapter.

The you reader, is male, and believe it or not the fellow frustrated reader is female, young and beautiful. Go figure. She, Ludmilla, has some insightful ideas on reading:
“The novels I prefer,” she says, “are those that make you feel uneasy from the very first page…”

“The novel I would most like to read at this moment,” Ludmilla explains, “should have as its driving force only the desire to narrate, to pile stories upon stories, without trying to impose a philosophy of life on you, simply allowing you to observe its own growth, like a tree, an entangling, as if of branches and leaves…”

There’s a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other those who read them. I want to remain one of those who read them, so I take care always to remain on my side of the line.

The pattern continues, and comes to a very pleasing if not quite complete closure. It’s brilliant. If you read this blog with any regularity, you probably love reading, so if you have not – you ought to read If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. This was a reread for me. I’ll definitely read more of Calvino.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



This book satisfies square G-2 in the 2020 Classic BINGO challenge









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10 comments:

  1. One of my absolute favorites, too. Isn't it great? If you haven't read The Baron In The Trees, it's quite different, but I love it just as much.

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    1. This is the only thing I've read by Calvino, and didn't know what I should try next, so thanks for the recommendation. :)

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  2. Been meaning to get to this for ages now. Sounds really interesting.

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    1. It's a good one Rob...quite unusual. I think you'd enjoy it.

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  3. Hi Joseph,

    Great review. I read this one last year and enjoyed it well enough but found the overall reading experience to be quite overwhelming--there was just so much going on at once! I like how you highlighted the meta-fictional aspects of the novel, which is so cleverly done. I would like to read this again at some point because it's impossible to pick up on all the complexities the first time around.

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    1. For me...this was definitely better on reread - and I enjoyed it quite a bit the first time.

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  4. I do want to read more Calvino but I hated this book! I found it so frustrating! I know it was clever, maybe too clever for me. But I am intrigued to try something else...maybe The Baron in the Trees as Sylvia suggests? I also have a copy of Invisible Cities on my shelf.

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    1. It is so unusual and complex, I can definitely see that it won't appeal to everyone. I also need to try more Calvino.

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  5. I really liked this, but I think I prefer Invisible Cities. I will be interested to see what you think of that one. And Cosmicomics is fantastic; after reading it I discovered that there is a longer version, _The Complete Cosmicomics_, which I want to read someday.

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    1. Well I may have to bump Invisible Cites up on my TBR, and add Cosmicomics. Thanks Beth!

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