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Mr Palomar (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Italo Calvino
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 July 1994 Vintage Classics
Mr Palomar is a delightful eccentric whose chief activity is looking at things. He is seeking knowledge; 'it is only after you have come to know the surface of things that you can venture to seek what is underneath'. Whether contemplating a fine cheese, a hungry gecko, a woman sunbathing topless or a flight of migrant starlings, Mr Palomar's observations render the world afresh.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; Re-issue edition (11 July 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099430878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099430872
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 12.8 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 153,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Italo Calvino was born in Cuba in 1923 and grew up in Italy. He was an essayist and journalist and a member of the editorial staff of Einaudi in Turin. One of the most respected writers of our time, his best-known works of fiction include Invisible Cities, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, Marcovaldo and Mr Palomar. In 1973 he won the prestigious Premio Feltrinelli. He died in 1985. A collection of Calvino's posthumous personal writings, The Hermit in Paris, was published in 2003.

Product Description


"Here, Calvino, probably Italy's leading novelist before he died, focuses a probing eye on one man's attempt to name the parts of his universe, almost as though Mr Palomar were trying to define and explain his own existence. Where the Palomar telescope points out into space, Mr Palomar points in: walking the beach, visiting the zoo, strolling in his garden. Each brief chapter reads like an exploded haiku, with Mr Palomar reading an universe into the proverbial grain of sand" (Time Out)

"Beautifully nimble, solitary feats of imagination" (Seamus Heaney)

"Calvino represents a high point of literary evolution; his skill is immense but retains a simian agility. As ever, his gaze is crystal clear and his writing has the easy beauty of clarity." (New Statesman)

Book Description

A witty, elegant novel about looking, seeing, thinking, knowing and understanding

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be Mr. Palomar, even more than you are... 21 Oct 2000
Mr. Palomar, the telescope into our hearts... this deals with everything, as is the norm for Calvino...! Palomar on the beach, ogling the naked lady, trying to play the politics of not looking, ending up being seen as a complete pervie!!! Palomar in the cheese-shop, thinking about original, spectacular cheeses, and buying cheddar... Palomar thinking about his own alienation and indulging his Christ fantasies looking at the albino ape... Palomar looking at the birds and the bees and thinking about silence... this is something which will make you realise you have always been wise, and make you hope you're not so stupid as you are now, ever again.... Life-changing - if he'd told it as it was, it wouldn't have worked.... Oh yes, and the translation: perfect. Nuances read like Calvino, sentence and paragraph lengths reflect his obsession with such things, grammar just as quirky as in the best Calvino translations - makes you wish you could read Italian to better understand just how bang on this translation is!!!!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I lost Mr Palomar! 27 Aug 2003
By A Customer
I had never heard of Italo Calvino when I found this in a university second hand bookshop. I loved the name of another of his books on the shelf, "Adam, One Afternoon", and bought "Mr Palomar" because it was cheaper, and I liked its title too.
I was excited, feeling I'd found a book that was about to do what I like books to do, not get bogged down in plot, but explore character, quirks and observations.
The first story/tale/segment/chapter, "Reading a Wave" was intriguing. I enjoyed it. I felt there was plenty of Mr Palomar in his reading of a wave, and felt I was getting to know this character, through his observations, and his inclination to actually be watching a wave.
The second, "The Naked Bosom", too, gave me an insight into Mr Palomar, who by now I liked. I loved the humour in that short piece.
Then, I started to drift. Perhaps I was a bad reader, perhaps this book cannot be done justice a chapter a night, in bed, but the next, longer piece, felt quite external to me, and I started losing Mr Palomar. I started to get bored by his observations and thought patterns in a way I didn't expect. I like minutiae, I like contemplation, I like obsessions written down, but this, to me, was too much reading about things in which I was not interested. It started to feel like a catalogue.
I did enjoy Mr Palomar's thoughts on tortoises, blackbirds, the moon, cheese, goose fat...there are sparks of bleak humour throughout, and glimpses of Mr Palomar, but I found myself scanning sections of text, willing the next section to come along in the hope that it would grip me more.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Short stories 25 April 2011
Mr Palomar is a lovely man. His internal monologue is a warming read. I read this book at uni 11 years ago. It still sits on my bookshelf today - a book I revisit from time to time. The complexities of walking past a topless woman - should he look, will he seem that he is ogling, if he doesn't look will she feel offended that she isn't worth looking at, these are all things Mr Palomar considers in the part of the book I remember most vividly "The Naked Bosom"

The thing I never quite reasoned out was how the number three plays a role through the book. Three parts, with three subparts each made of three short stories. Even still it makes it great for dipping in and out of.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mr Palomar fails to impress Archy 8 Nov 2011
By Archy
This was a very difficult book to read. That's not because it had lots of words I didn't know the meaning of, though there were some, but rather lots of sentences whose meaning eluded me. Mr Palomar goes about observing life and contemplating it, and we get the result of those contemplations. But often they're not very interesting, even when they are comprehensible.

Did I like it, then? No, or I would have given it four stars. But if I disliked it, is it right to give it only two stars when the reasons for my disliking it might have been my own inability to grasp whatever point the author was making? Or am I entitled to give a book two stars because I did not like it, my reasons for not liking it being irrelevant? Is there anyone out there who is going to be swayed by a two or four star review, or will everyone make up their own mind? Is there anyone out there at all? Is there any point to this book? Is there any point to this review? I like to review the books I finish, so here is the review. But can I be said to have finished the book if large portions of it went misunderstood? Or did I really misunderstand it or is it actually a bit of a tease for readers to play with? Is not understanding it a perfectly valid reaction? Well, it's given me a bit of food for thought, so maybe I should give it three stars. But, in giving it three stars, am I stating a genuine opinion or just sitting on the fence? Maybe I should re-read the book. But if I'm considering re-reading a book, doesn't that in itself mean it warrants more than three stars? Maybe, if you've waded through my own pontifications you should try Mr Palomar's, which are far more literate. But if they've just got you irritated maybe you should leave this book alone.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty, Humor, Wit and Pathos 3 July 2002
By Paul Pomeroy - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Italo Calvino's book, "Mr. Palomar," is a superbly crafted novel about an intellectual quest for order and reason in a chaotic and unreasonable world. Should this sound like rather dry and uninteresting reading, be assured that it is not. Calvino is a great story teller, and in Mr. Palomar he has found a character that provides him with a medium, a vehicle, to deliver stories of great beauty, humor, wit and pathos.
In books about the theories of complexity and chaos there is usually a chapter dedicated to the task of explaining that it is only in the boundary between order and chaos that all of the really interesting things are possible, including life. Mr. Palomar's mistake is in thinking that things would be better (or, at least he'd be less anxious) if he could just figure out how to get everything to calmly step over to the "ordered" side of the line. He is the twentieth century's Don Quixote, not on a romantic quest but an intellectual one; not fighting off the advancing windmills (that battle has already been lost), but desperately trying to reason his way into a moment of Zen-like clarity and peace.
It may seem that Mr. Palomar brings to his task of putting the world in order a formidable intellect. He is, indeed, very bright and often brilliant. But Calvino implies early and often that Mr. Palomar doesn't so much possess an intellect as he is possessed by one. Mr. Palomar may have the illusion that he brings his intellect to bear on one thing or another but, in truth, his intellect has its own agenda and Mr. Palomar is simply along for the ride.
It is Mr. Palomar's inability to escape his own intellect that produces both the funniest and saddest moments in the book. The chapter entitled "The Naked Bosom" reads like the misadventures of a philosophical "Mr. Bean." In it, Mr. Palomar is walking along the beach when he spots a young lady sunning herself topless. His initial experience quickly gives way to his trying to deliver a reasonable (a perfectly reasoned) response. Should he look away? Glance? Look for a moment with casual interest? More than casual interest? What is the correct response, free of cultural conditioning? Is his cultural upbringing out of date? As he passes by, he realizes that his thinking wasn't quite right, his response not quite perfect, so he turns around and tries it again ...
By the 4th pass, when he finally thinks he's got it right, the young woman has had enough, covers herself up, grabs her things and storms off. Mr. Palomar's reaction to the young woman's leaving in a "huff" is, as always, intellectually reasonable. He feels insulted that his efforts were not understood and he blames this, implicitly, on her failure to throw off the "dead weight of an intolerant tradition."
Calvino knew that what he was writing would be perceived not only at an intellectual level but also as humor and he crafts his story in a way that pays tribute to both, much as a great composer will intertwine melody and harmony. But he never wants us to forget that these melodies and harmonies are parts of a larger, more subtle theme: Mr. Palomar is imprisoned by a terrible irony: the only thing preventing him from experiencing the moment of clarity and beauty he is so desperate for is the overpowering intellect he is trying to find it with.
Mr. Palomar has far too much reason for the task and absolutely no sense. He can think, but he can't connect. This is why he has absolutely no idea how the young woman on the beach may have perceived him. Worse, he has no idea that she was anything other than a stage prop and audience for his quest for an "enlightened" response. Worse still, for him, he has no idea that he has no idea.
Contrary to what many critics have said of "Mr. Palomar," Calvino is not praising or even paying tribute to intellect or the powers of intellectual (and scientific) observation. His point is that having reason without sense (order without due respect for the messy, chaotic connections that life and living require) is an inescapable trap. In the end, Mr. Palomar's intellect is like a black hole. He begins quite pleased to find that everything comes to mind easily, and then discovers that nothing seems to be getting back out anymore. Then he spirals into himself trying to find some sense of who he is, some place from which to take a stand, but he ends up like a singularity. And then, in an instant, he is nothing at all.
Mr. Calvino makes his point in a way that is never didactic. He makes it in small, often subtle and frequently entertaining steps. If you accompany him along the way, he'll show you ocean waves, turtles, geckos, iguanas and weeds in the front lawn in ways you've never seen before. He'll do the same with goose fat, roof tops and, in another "Mr. Bean" moment, the stars. He'll have Mr. Palomar and an albino gorilla perform a duet for you, and perform a masterpiece in four-part harmony (played staccato, no less) with two birds and a married couple.
This book is without a doubt an intellectual treat, full of profound and deep observations. What makes it a book worthy of a 5 star rating, though, is that it is equally profound in ways our intellects can never fathom.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We don't know what they mean..." 21 Feb 2004
By ewomack - Published on
Here is another great example of how versatile a writer Italo Calvino was. His work always had a philosophical side to it, and in Mr. Palomar that side almost takes over completely.
Mr. Palomar is the main character (in fact, one of the only characters) and the world simply befuddles him to an extent that he needs to find order and meaning in everything. His attempts are often very funny, but how they're all inevitably spoilt is even funnier. Probably the best example of this is the section entitled "The Naked Bosom" - Palomar tries to find a way to both not deny himself the natural pleasure of seeing a topless sunbather and not denying the naked sunbather digity and respect. His attempts cause him to pass by the sunbather so frequently that she gets up in a huff. Good intentions, bad implementation. The book circles around similar themes, but within many different contexts. Palomar looks at waves, rhapsodizes on mating turtles, examines the night sky, examines the patrons of a cheese shop, etc. Mr. Palomar is always in natural and real-life situations, but over-analyzing them to a degree almost of unreality. Though it sometimes reads like a very heady, and bordering on the pretentious, book, it's actually a very funny book about trying to find meaning in life, and the inevitable problems one will likely have in finding meaning all by oneself. It almost reads like a parody of intellectualism; of someone so thirsting for knowledge that they forget their very surroundings and paradoxically neglect themselves and others in the process. The more Palomar examines the world, the less he feels comfortable in it, and the further he seems to drift from people and society. By the end of the book, Palomar is in pretty bad shape in this regard, and the book's final sentence will either stun you or make you laugh very hard. Yes, there is a story (and arguably a plot) it's just told very unconventionally.
Some of the standout sections are "The Naked Bosom" (mentioned earlier, about the sunbather), "Marble and Blood" (about hidden guilt in a butcher's shop), and "Serpents and Skulls" (about interpreting ancient meanings). All of these are at once funny and profound. Through Palomar's search the reader gets a peek at some of the great questions and some controversial issues. How one deals with these questions and issues is something every reflective, for those fortunate enough to have time and resources for reflection, human being must wrestle with. In the end the book asks a big question: "How to deal with all of this?" It is doubtful that Mr. Palomar provides a good example, but it is entertaining to follow his steps through the maze of existence's puzzles.
The table of contents of this book are not where one would expect. They have been put to the back of the book as an index, and coded thematically and experientially. The index explains the structure of the book. I can't say I've seen this approach elsewhere, but it makes me wonder if Palomar is responsible for them - is the index part of the parody?
Palomar is experimental, funny, profound, unconventional, and at last entertaining and challenging to read. This pretty much sums up all of Calvino's books. He never settled on one approach or one style for too long. One never knows what they're going to get when one picks up a book by Calvino.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Aristotle Met James Thurber 15 Feb 2005
By James Gollin - Published on
The 27 reveries of Mr. Palomar are filled with paradox; in them we find gently profound ruminations on the cosmos as well as the embarrassments of ordinary human interaction. This is a book that makes us see the world around us in a different way.

Mr. Palomar, who shares the name of the observatory, is the emblem of the person as observer. Whether it is the ocean or the heavens, a cheese shop or an Aztec ruin, Mr. Palomar attempts to see and to comprehend what he sees. But the general theme of his attempts at observations is ultimately the failure, or at least the inadequacy, of his attempts.

Much of the book has an Aristotelian quality, which perhaps is not so surprising, considering that Mr. Palomar's enterprise, the attempt to understand the universe through careful observation, is Aristotle's approach at well. Much of the contemplation follows Aristotelian lines. Mr. Palomar is often immersed in Aristotelian efforts of categorization, of conceptually separating a part from the whole, and facing the question that looms so large in Aristotle: When can we derive the properties of the whole from the part, and when is the opposite true? Then again, the reader is reminded of Aristotle's "Parts of Animals" when Mr. Palomar describes the running giraffes and how each part of the giraffe's anatomy appears to be suited to a separate species, or when Mr. Palomar watches through his skylight as a gecko captures, ingests, and digests an insect.

But counterpoised with this, you have genuine "Walter Mitty" type moments when the real world interrupts the reverie. Mr. Palomar, waiting in a line in a cheese shop, is inspired by the actual cheeses he sees to construct a model world of cheese, and becomes so absorbed in this enterprise, that he at some point crosses over and mentally inhabits the model world. As in Thurber, the humor derives from the person who inhabits the imagined world having to deal with the sudden demands of the actual cheese shop.

One thing I recommend to a reader is, in reading through the sections (I guess one can refer to them as essays), to consider what causes Mr. Palomar to break off the contemplation. Sometimes, it is the intervention of the outside world. Sometimes it is that Mr. Palomar is overcome by a sort of vertigo at the immensity of space or time. Sometimes, Mr. Palomar hits upon a dualism, yes, we can view the object in such and such a way, but equally well in another way, and is unable to move beyond that point. By tracking these closing moments, one can best come to terms with Mr. Palomar's experience of failure.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dream of Saturn 2 Sep 2004
By Kindle Customer - Published on
When I first picked this up, I had to admit that I was skeptical. I am a great fan of Calvino but was put off by books description. The shtick of the viewer controlling and describing everything seemed more like a gimmick than a legit novel. Boy, was I wrong. I have never been more interested in viewing Saturn or seeing Starlings in Rome than after reading this. Please, do not get me wrong; I know it is about more than that. The thing is, like Invisible Cities, this book wraps itself around your psyche, hijacks your thoughts and informs your dreams. Calvino went out with a bang.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contemplative and Beautiful 5 Feb 2012
By ReadingWhileFemale - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't usually like blurbs. I find that they often misrepresent the books that they are supposed to be describing. That said, I don't know that there is any better way to describe Mr. Palomar than "a vision of a world familiar by consensus, fragmented by the burden of individual perception. This books isn't plot driven, or even character driven, so much as it is a book of images, thoughts, moods, and ideas. Contemplative and deliberately paced, Mr. Palomar is different from almost anything else I've read.

Mr. Palomar is a series of scenes or vignettes, grouped into three large categories, that are based on things that our main character, the middle-aged Mr. Palomar, sees and thinks about. From the waves on a beach to an albino gorilla in a zoo, from the stars and galaxies to the inner workings of his own mind, Mr. Palomar, like his telescope namesake, is always looking at something, and trying to divine from those individual moments the laws of the universe. Many of his musings are about perception and how we should look at things. Is a cheese shop really a museum of human civilization? What to turtles think about while mating? Is the most important part of speech actually silence? How much can we interpret the past, or physical objects, or other people, without distorting them? These sound like big weighty questions, but Mr. Palomar's thoughts are so rooted in observation and imagery that this book never becomes too abstract or loses its connection with the reader. Instead, it connects with that part of all of us that stays detached, thinking about ourselves and our place in the world.

For people who want a books with a plot, I would not recommend this book. Though Mr. Palomar is very relatable in some ways, he is also a very introverted and detached character, and though the entire book is composed of his perceptions, I wouldn't say this is really character-driven novel either. Mr. Palomar is, if nothing else, a novel of mood, images, and thoughts. It is a book that rewards rereading, with shades of meaning and beauty in everything from the overall organization all the way down to individual sentences and word choices. Bathed in the feeling of detachment and isolation so common in modern society, Mr. Palomar is about trying to make sense of the world in which we somehow find ourselves.

Rating: 5 stars
Recommendation: Read this if you like contemplative novels built on mood, images, and ideas.
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