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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, but not one for traditionalists, 6 May 2013
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This review is from: If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
It's easy to see why there are a lot of conflicting reviews for this book!

Calvino's (to my mind) masterpiece of postmodern meta-fiction will most certainly not be to everybody's taste. It's a labyrinth of a book that, while not being difficult to read, will very likely put a lot of people off.

So I'll say this straight away: If you like your fiction traditional - hero, conflict, resolution, happy ending - then avoid this. This is not meant to be judgemental in any way - I like most kinds of fiction, but just because I don't read romance, war novels or westerns doesn't make them any less relevant. It's all down to personal taste. Likewise, if you don't like postmodernism then you'll hate this.

The book opens with you - the reader - as the main character in a bookshop, about to buy a copy of "If on a winter's night a traveller". Straight away we're into second person narrative and self-reference. That book is defective, and in the search for the second chapter you discover a different book, which you are also prevented from completing by circumstances. The search for the end of that leads you to another, and so on and so on.

These first chapters are interspersed with the story of you, the reader, your pursuit of the books you've started, and also of Ludmilla, another reader that you met in the bookshop (who at one point is also referred to as "you"). In this way the book spirals around and loops back onto itself.

There is a plot there. There are also the beginnings of many other plots, all of which take something from the main story, and put something else back into it.

It's hard to say how Calvino would like this to be interpreted. I think there are probably as many different opinions as there are readers. Personally, I take it (amongst other things) as a reflection of the reader's role in the writing process. After all, without readers what would a book be but a collection of pages? Doesn't that make the reader more important than anything else - the author, plot, characters?

If you like the concept, and are thinking about trying Calvino, this would certainly be a good one to start with. If you enjoy Paul Auster, Thomas Pynchon, Umberto Eco, then you will probably like this. If you're new to postmodern literature and want to try it, then perhaps not the best place to start - I might suggest Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy as being a better starting point.
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