Customer Review

88 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If on a winter';s night, 28 Dec 2005
This review is from: If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
One definition of metafiction is "Fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its conventions." That could pretty much describe Italo Calvino's "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler," a gloriously surreal story about the hunt for a mysterious book.
A reader opens Italo Calvino's latest novel, "If On A Winter's Night A Traveller," only to have the story cut short. Turns out it was a defective copy, with another book's pages inside. But as the reader tries to find out what book the defective pages belong to, he keeps running into even more books and more difficulties -- as well as the beautiful Ludmilla, a fellow reader who also received a defective book.
With Ludmilla assisting him (and, he hopes, going to date him), the reader then explores obscure dead languages, publishers' shops, bizarre translators and various other obstacles. All he wants is to read an intriguing book. But he keeps stumbling into tales of murder and sorrow, annoying professors, and the occasional radical feminist -- and a strange literary conspiracy. Will he ever finish the book?
In its own way, "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler" is a mystery story, a satire, a romance, and a treasure hunt. Any book whose first chapter explains how you're supposed to read it has got to be a winner -- "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, "If On A Winter's Night a Traveler." Relax. Concentrate." And so on, with Calvino gently joking and chiding the reader before actually beginning his strange little tale.
As cute as that first chapter is, it also sets the tone for this strange, funny metafictional tale, which not only inserts Calvino but the reader. That's right -- this book is written in the second person, with the reader as the main character. "You did this" and "you did that," and so on. Only a few authors are brave enough to insert the reader... especially in a novel about a novel that contains other novels. It seems like a subtle undermining of reality itself.
It's a bit disorienting when Calvino inserts chapters from the various books that "you" unearth -- including ghosts, hidden identities, Mexican duels, Japanese erotica, and others written in the required styles. Including some cultures that he made up. Upon further reading, those isolated chapters reveal themselves to be almost as intriguing as the literary hunt. Especially since each one cuts off at the most suspenseful moment -- what happens next? Nobody knows!
It all sounds hideously confusing, but Calvino's deft touch and sense of humor keep it from getting too weird. There are moments of wink-nudge comedy, as well as the occasional poke at the publishing industry. But Calvino also provides chilling moments, mildly sexy ones, and a tone of mystery hangs over the whole novel.
At times it feels like Calvino is in charge of "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler"... and at other times, it feels like "you" are the one at the wheel. Just don't put this in the stack of Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First. Pure literary genius.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Jan 2010 22:54:13 GMT
Firstly, I totally agree, don't put this in the list of Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First. Instead, reserve a place at the head of that list entitled: Books That I Keep Just Beside The Toilet To Use To Wipe My Poo Besmirched Arse With When I Fancy An Extravagant Bum Wipe.

Really really do not bother, this is the only book that I have ever read that has actually left me feeling angry. There is no substance to it whatsoever. Yes, yes, it is very clever and all of that, but it is utterly empty, completely devoid of substance. 'But you are mistaken!' the deconstructionist apologists will say 'that is precisely what it is saying!'. Quite.

By way of analogy, this book is that friend of yours who speaks very eloquently on a sophisticated subject, so well in fact that you have to listen really carefully to notice that they're talking rubbish.

So, still undecided on whether to buy this book then? Well I put it to you, why oh why would I bother to anonymously right on someone else's rather well written review of a book if I didn't really bloody hate the crappy book. Dwell on the possibility and nature of that hate, trust in it, and go read something good. Or even nothing at all.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Feb 2011 08:14:40 GMT
Norrin_Radd says:
This gets a helpful vote just for the phrases 'poo besmirched arse', and 'extravagant bum wipe'. I'd reserve anything by Javier Maras for that pleasure.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Nov 2012 07:49:38 GMT
Kaz says:
I really like the book but have to say that this review made me laugh a lot, many thanks
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