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Calvino at his wicked best,
This review is from: If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
As with Invisible Cities Calvino keeps you spinning with multiple layers of reality designed to make you feel ill at ease. His analysis of the human condition is ultimately that we never get to the bottom of what life is about but on our journey we have choices about our behaviours and some potential at least to escape the trap that existence holds us in.
The ostensible subject is literature itself and the reading of books. People are seeking specific texts which they are obsessed with. One book leads the characters to another, each one unfinished and in some cases not even available because they have been seized by the police or are being withheld by obstructive librarians, or even stolen by shadowy figures that we may or may not meet. Calvino drags you, the reader, into the plot and berates you for your actions (even though he is controlling them). There are hints of Kafka and the helplessness of the individual in society; at one points he gives a character the power to surreally wipe out all of reality only to find it emerging again outside of his control
Written towards the end of his career, this book contains a clear line of humorous scepticism about political dogma; although of the left wing, he pokes fun at the language and rhetoric of the left and how it often does nothing to advance the human condition. Politics is multi layered, and one scene demonstrates graphically that even if a person is stripped naked there are still things beneath the skin that you cannot fathom. Sex runs throughout the book in ambivalent terms, often sensuously and erotically described but also clearly reeking of power and aggression. Society, sex and literature all beckon and promise but ultimately disappoint and defy. Yet people go back for more.
There is a sense of wickedness throughout in the vast range of characters you meet: disputatious university professors, UFO hunters, secret policeman, literary students, pole dancers who perform with alligators, hijackers and terrorists, blocked writers, gauchos settling blood feuds with knife fights, Tarantino-like homicidal couples, and of course you - The Reader. As Calvino himself says of one of the elusive texts his characters are seeking "Whatever it may be, this is a novel where, once you have got into it, you want to go forward, without stopping".