If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 20 Feb 1992
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"Breathtakingly inventive" (David Mitchell)
"The greatest Italian writer of the twentieth century" (Guardian)
"Reading Calvino, you're constantly assailed by the notion that he is writing down what you have always known, except that you've never thought of it before.This is highly unnerving: fortunately you're usually too busy laughing to go mad... I can think of no finer writer to have beside me while Italy explodes, Britain burns, while the world ends" (Salman Rushdie)
"A devastating, wonderfully ingenious parody of all those dreary best-sellers you buy at the airport... It is a "world novel": take it with you next time you plan to travel in an armchair" (Lorna Sage Observer)
"A brilliant work of the imagination and the intellect working in union.And, by the way, it's very funny also" (Scotsman)
'Breathtakingly inventive' David MitchellSee all Product description
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You scan down the review further hoping for more details of the plot of "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" - unfortunately there is little to be found in this review - only a passing mention of it being a story of a man trying to find the end of a book for which has has only the beginning. That is your starting point. The best thing, you think, is to try the book yourself.
You scan a few other books before finally deciding the Add to Basket. You have begun.
That’s because in Calvino’s book, what he explores is the act of communication between writer and reader – in which the reader has as essential a role to play. Indeed, the novel is that most unusual thing, a second-person narrative: you the reader play the leading role in it (though sadly that’s you, the male reader – perhaps, in his defence, catering for a reader of either gender would have been too difficult).
You are trying to read a novel, specifically If on a winter’s night a traveller. But there’s been a terrible mistake in its printing: after you’ve read enough to gain a taste for it, you find it’s interrupted. And back at the bookshop, what you’re given as the continuation is, actually, quite another book. Which again is interrupted after the first chapter.
And so it goes on. You go from publisher to critic to translator and, ultimately to the writer, constantly seeking the next part of each of the books you start, each of them interrupted, always at a tantalising point. In the course of this quest, in which you’re joined by a fascinating female reader and her sister, the first gentle and self-effacing though just as assertive as the other, who is forceful and hot-blooded, you take us all through a voyage of discovery of what it is to write, and read, a novel: the feeling, for instance, that it might be preferable only ever to start a book, because as the novelist advances, all the options opened by the beginning are closed off. That impoverishes you the reader (see? you’re always in the frame.)
Each of the ten individual novels that we – that you – start to enjoy is compelling. All are mysteries of some kind: a subversive movement that has persuaded a narrator to an exchange of suitcases at a station, a femme fatale who may be seducing a narrator into assisting with her clandestine plans, a call to answer a ringing phone in a house that is not the narrator’s though the call is for him… All these tales promise interesting developments, though we the readers, or rather you the reader, soon learn to distrust such promises.
Are all these narrators the same narrator? Perhaps but perhaps not. If there is one consistent thread running through all the narrations, that’s you, the reader.
So the structure works. It’s a romp, often highly humorous, through the creative process, in which the writer is a character in his own novel, and the reader is as much so. At which point, the exploration isn’t simply the navel-gazing of the novelist describing novel-writing, but focuses on the relationship between the writer and the reader, creating a fictional space between them.
When I add that the ending is a jewel, wrapping up the whole story neatly and, above all, with great wit, launchng yu back on the track of the unfinished narration, what could possibly hold you back? An outstanding novel by one of Italy’s finest novelists. And the fact that it’s about novels works perfectly.
Not a word to say against it.
This was an infuriating and difficult read...every time I felt like I was getting into the book, it switched up and changed the story without ever ending anything. It’s almost as if the author is trying to be very clever or doesn’t actually like the people that read the book.
Such a shame. If you want to read a book that tells you what you’re doing and how to think, then go for it. If you like reading books that have a storyline, give this one a miss.
Calvino is clever and famous for his short stories ('the distance of the moon' is a particular favourite of mine). From this it might be supposed that he gets bored with an idea very quickly and likes to move on. This book is essentially all the novels he started, but failed to finish, brought together very ingeniously to form a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. Each extract has all the charm, invention and readability you would expect from Italy's finest - and the whole thing seems to come together as a coherent whole that gives comment on the relationship between author and reader and literature in general. It is, however, enjoyable at any level.
The book is for all readers: avid readers; occasional readers; lazy readers; slow readers - whatever type of reader you are, it's for you. The thing I like the most about this novel is that it plays with the perceptions of books, of readers and of narrative (especially narrative). You are, throughout this novel, both the observer and the observed: you are the reading yourself as a character and as a reader. That's what makes this book fascinating and so engaging, the fact that it is so different and so novel (pardon the pun) in it's conception.
It's a brilliant book and I would definitely recommend it to everyone.