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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Italian novel with quite a prolonged narrative
Svevo's novel is intended to constitute the confessions of its narrator, a chain-smoking hypochondriac named Zeno Cosini. These confessions are produced at the behest of Zeno's psychoanalyst and take the form of a series of elliptical episodes, which cover the breadth of his life. Amongst other things, Zeno details his unpremeditated marriage proposal to a woman who he...
Published on 23 Feb 2007 by Ruffian McRuffian

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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Can't see what all the fuss is about
Why is this an Italian classic?

I just don't get it. It's a pedestrian, plodding account of a man's adulteries and business incompetencies in pre-WW1 Trieste. The character is not likable, the events not interesting. Maybe the language has some special quality in Italian? The translator doesn't think so, in his note at the beginning of the book.
Published on 26 Nov 2010 by Jezza


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Italian novel with quite a prolonged narrative, 23 Feb 2007
This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Svevo's novel is intended to constitute the confessions of its narrator, a chain-smoking hypochondriac named Zeno Cosini. These confessions are produced at the behest of Zeno's psychoanalyst and take the form of a series of elliptical episodes, which cover the breadth of his life. Amongst other things, Zeno details his unpremeditated marriage proposal to a woman who he doesn't initially desire. In fact, much of the novel entails the narrator reflecting on his volatile relationships with others, particularly his brother-in-law Guido,his wife's sisters and his mistress.

The novel is humorous in places and provides an interesting insight into life, however fictional, in the city of Trieste. The justifications that Zeno provides for his, often morally reprehensible, actions are also quite interesting. Unfortunately, the narrative moves at a frustratingly slow pace and some of Zeno's musings are also slightly prolonged.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very rewarding, 13 Jan 2004
This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This book is an ironic twist on Freudian analysis. The protagonist (Zeno) is trying to give up smoking and, under the influence of the psychotherapist Dr. S., is reviewing the major events in his life to discover why he is finding it so difficult. Svevo was apprently not a fan of psychoanalysis (which was still in its infancy when the book was written) and his use of it as a framework is heavily ironic.
The chapters are structured around a few important events (the death of his father, marriage, an affair, a business failure) and these are not in themselves particularly special. The beauty of the book is the honesty with which Zeno records his thoughts and feelings. The attitudes he has are not always the ones most acceptible to the world, and it is this difference between his inner monologue and the way he behaves that sets the book apart. He is a weak and vain man, but he is a good man, something of an everyman. Because of this ordinariness, it was easy to identify with him (for me at least). This made the reading of an admittedly slowgoing book very easy indeed, and I recognised bits of myself time after time, which is a testament to Svevo's observation of people (and of himself). The book is slow and generally lacks a clear narrative, so won't be to everyone's taste, but I found it a very rewarding read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic of modernist irony, 22 Aug 2010
By 
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Svevo's novel is considered one of the masterpieces of European modernism, and a pinnacle of Italian - or Triestine - writing in the twentieth century. As is well known, it received an early impetus when it was championed by James Joyce. Those who find Joyce's linguistic games a barrier to enjoyment need not fear Svevo: Zeno's Conscience is not `difficult' in the manner of Ulysses. This is not to say that the novel is a throwback to the realist fiction that dominated the last half of the nineteenth century, though its central figure is a bourgeois idler and the society in which he moves revolves around the typical bourgeois preoccupations with money and marriage. Rather, Svevo is an ironist somewhat in the manner of Thomas Mann, Musil, Proust or Gide: albeit an Italian ironist who knows his Boccaccio.

Zeno Cosini is an unlikely hero: the scion of a Triestine commercial family, he is on the face of it a textbook case of privileged neurosis - a self-centred hypochondriac whose consciousness varies a truly awesome lack of insight into his own character, abilities and motives with moments of piercing penetration. As such, having exhausted the resources of conventional medicine, he gravitates naturally towards the novel science of psychoanalysis. Encouraged to write by his analyst, he muses about his smoking habit, his father's character, his courtship of his wife, his infidelities, his commercial ventures, and finally his predictable disillusionment with psychoanalysis itself.

The novel is set mainly in the Trieste of the thirty years before the outbreak of the First World War, during which the city was an outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, by comparison with London or Paris, something of a backwater. The even temper of bourgeois life during the Belle Époque provides a taken-for-granted backdrop against which Zeno's antiheroic odyssey takes place. The point of the book emerges in the interplay between Zeno's view of life and the various alternatives offered to his preferred mode of self-indulgence - the perennial `last cigarette' by which he delays engagement with responsibility - including the new dogmas of psychoanalysis, which emerges as yet another all-explanatory `master narrative' whose ultimate purpose seems to be to deprive Zeno of his pleasures.

Svevo's literary manner is matter-of-fact and his humour dry. Readers looking for fireworks will not find them here. By comparison with much contemporary writing, Zeno's Conscience moves slowly, and after the short opening section the leisurely pace lasts until the equally short closing section. The novel is often described as comic, but the comedy is largely structural, and although Zeno's shamelessness is amusing there is a constant undercurrent of anxiety and pain that emerges in full flower only at the book's end. Zeno marries, takes a mistress, embarks on an ill-advised commercial venture, and finally finds himself side-swiped by the belated onset of hostilities. Slowly we form a view of his character, which is less simple than it at first appears and less contemptible than a naive description suggests. In the end, Svevo gives us a portrait of an ambivalent modern man that deserves to stand alongside those of the other modernist ironists.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Italian modern classic, 2 July 2012
This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Confessions of Zeno was published in 1923 by Italian Svevo - it is one of the top 100 books of World literature. It is also titled "Zeno's Conscience" which I think more representative of the style really. I read the Penguin classic translated by Zoete.

Ok, the basic story is the life of Zeno Cosini who lives in Trieste in the late 1800-early 1900s with the story ending in 1916 when Zeno is in his seventies. After an introduction from "Dr S" we have Zeno writing his own diary/analysis (and given to the Dr) as a therapy for his infirmities which are routed in psychological issues. Svevo's tale is based on the Oedipus complex of father hating, mother loving etc and the ideas of Freud as a foundation.

Zeno is a hypochondriac unlovable, prematurely bald, virtually chain smoking, short, fluent, adulterous, weak minded, rude, odius and educated chemist come lawyer. He is perpetually having his last cigarette (chapter 1) and suffering pains and need to limp. He has cringing moments that don't endear you to him; he is a literary David Brent ("The Office" manager). His mother Maria died when he was quite young (about 20); we have Zeno discussing the circumstances of father's death when Zeno was in his early 30s (chapter 2). Zeno falls in with the Malfenti family: a businessman patriarch, 4 daughters (3 of marriable age: Ada, Augusta and Alberta). The pivot of the most excellent dynamic arc of the whole story is basically he loves Ada (the pretty one) and ignores Augusta (the plain one). The sad, vaguely comic, incident when he proposes to all three, after successive refusals, end in an almost spiteful self loathing way hitched with Augusta (chapter 3). But at the same time needs to get along with rival Guido in business whilst he goes on to marry Ada. He has a year long affair with Carla a sixteen year old whom he doesn't want to end up losing suffering much angst in the diary (whilst Augusta has his first kid) (chapter 4). There are further chapters but I won't spoil it by saying more. There are other characters like Olivi (a genuinely good business man who educates Zeno) and a friend Enrico.

This is a most excellent existentialish book. It is quite long but has a real vibrant, modern style which quickly draws you into the mind of Zeno; unlike other literature where the motives are somewhat understated this is full on, dare I say, `male' psychology stuff. You really do find yourself making your own judgements of his behaviour (such as thinking "Zeno I know you're not fooling even yourself there"). Zeno for the majority of the book is an annoying little anti-hero by the end he's just an old, understood anti-hero. If I had a criticism it would be that the last short chapter, when WW1 enters the story, is a little unnecessary and misplaced.

Some quotes:

"When you are actually dying you have other things to do than think about death"

(of his father) "With a supreme effort he struggled to his feet, raised his arm high above his head, and brought it down with the whole weight of his falling body on my cheek. Then he slipped from the bed on to the floor and lay there - dead!"

"I felt unhappier than ever, and in such a morbid state of self-pity one may easily fall prey to unwholesome suggestions"

"The resolutions existed for their own sake, and had no practical results whatever"

"My dismay at finding that I was not really good was becoming less acute. I felt as if I had solved that distressing problem. One is neither good nor bad, just as one is not so many other things besides"

"One of the great difficulties of life is guessing what a woman wants. Listening to what she says is no help, for a whole speech may be wiped out by a single look"

In summary, this is an excellent book, though lacking a certain freedom of forthrightness and naturalism (there is no sex for example). I normally like a lot of story and could imagine others thinking this tale lacking enough narrative but overall a male oriented literary classic (at last, none of your "Portrait of a Lady" here).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zeno's genius!, 15 Jan 2009
By 
J. E. Holden (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
What a wonderful book! Thank you to the Amazon member who made a list with this book near the top.

Zeno is the most brilliantly conceived comic neurotic I have ever come across in a book. He is the Woody Allen or Larry David of a small Italian town in the early twentieth century.

The comic travails in business, sickness and mainly in love, leave a reader frequently irritating those around them with constant chuckles and even the odd belly laugh.

Zeno is a man who can't get anything right, but he is completely self-conscious of this, and he deconstructs himself in wonderful comic detail.

I particularly love his sardonic view on psychoanalysis, "My therapy was supposedly finished because my sickness had been discovered. It was nothing but the one diagnosed, in his day, by the late Sophocles for poor Oedipus: I had loved my mother and I would have liked to kill my father. And I didn't become angry! Spellbound, I lay there and listened. It was a sickness that elevated me to the highest noble company. An illustrious sickness, whose ancestors dated back to the mythological era!"
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5.0 out of 5 stars Zeno's Conscience, 12 May 2013
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This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
A very amusing and enjoyable read. It is very definitely a classic and opens a lost world but with a very defined look at the future.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smokin' Good!, 22 April 2008
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This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
While I tend to agree with the other reviers, I simply find it misleading that this book hasn't recieved a 5-star rating. When you look around on Amazon, books far worse than this one have something like a 5-star average.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Can't see what all the fuss is about, 26 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Why is this an Italian classic?

I just don't get it. It's a pedestrian, plodding account of a man's adulteries and business incompetencies in pre-WW1 Trieste. The character is not likable, the events not interesting. Maybe the language has some special quality in Italian? The translator doesn't think so, in his note at the beginning of the book.
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Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics)
Zeno's Conscience (Penguin Modern Classics) by Italo Svevo (Paperback - 26 Sep 2002)
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