Calvino once described a young readers first acquaintance with Stendhal's 'Charterhouse at Parma' and how they are overwhelmed by the first pages recognising the novel they had always wanted to read; how the novel then develops along different lines becoming a multiplicity of novels. He could have been describing this novel. The reader is immediately arrested by the opening chapter in which 'the reader' buys a copy of 'If On A Winters Night A Traveller' by Italo Calvino. The whole description is more engaging and a lot funnier than you might think. The chapter seems to herald a whole new kind of novel. The remainder of the novel follows a number of different directions, but it is the first chapter which remains in the mind most clearly.
It is a novel about novels - usually the most tedious of postmodernist cliches, yet this novel centres on reading rather than writing. The unnamed reader begins a number of novels which for increasingly bizarre reasons he is unable to continue. He meets a fellow reader, Ludmilla with whom he joins in the quest to find these lost novels and with whom he begins a romance. On his quest he encounters publishers and academics a literary forger, censors - in fact pretty much every element of the literature industry ( including a non-reader who uses books to create sculptures), yet he remains the pure disinterested reader.
The book is packed tight with ideas and jokes plus some marvellous literary pastiches - my favourite being the erotic japanese novel.
Calvino belongs to the worlds of Sterne and Joyce and in this case more particularly Borges and Flann O'Brien. It is the perfect book for those who love experiment, playfulness and cerebral humour. It is probably the best introduction to a marvellous (in all senses) writer.