Tuesday, March 1, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino is a tremendous, seductive novel about reading. Originally published in 1979, it nevertheless feels fresh (reference to a payphone notwithstanding.) 

I love books about books, writers, and reading, and can often relate to insightful bits in these types of works. But passages in Calvino’s book hit so close to home that I laughed out loud or got tears in my eyes. He not only understands compulsive readers but has the talent to put that compulsion into words.

In this novel, a narrator addresses a Reader as “You.” But this unnamed Reader is a character. Who is about to start reading If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Chapters addressing the Reader alternate with chapters of fictional novels. (Yes, all novels are fiction. But these novels don’t exist. They are literally fictional.)

We begin. We, like the Reader, get sucked into chapter one. And then, the read is interrupted. There has been a printer error. The Reader embarks upon an odyssey to find the rest of the book. Along the way, he meets another Reader, also searching for the rest of the book, with whom he would very much like to connect. As the search progresses, he continuously thinks or hopes he has found what he seeks, but it’s always an opening chapter to a different book.

Each step of the way, he is drawn into the next book and wants to continue that one as much as or instead of the first. Amazingly, I was right there with him. Even when a new chapter began, and I knew that it would not be a continuation of the previous novel, and that this one, too, would drop off just when I was hooked, I had to read on! It was frustrating without being infuriating. Each new first chapter was unique and beautifully written. The plot involving the Reader and the woman he pursued was absurd; yet his emotional connection to the reading process and her philosophy of reading kept me as interested in their story as I was in all the stories that I knew would never be finished–yet still had to start.

This novel is thrilling.

No comments:

Post a Comment