Review: “If on a winter’s night a traveler” – Italo Calvino (RATING:6/10)28 November, 2007
I read this book over the course of three or four years. I started it four years ago, and slowly worked my way about halfway through, and then forgot about it. I recently picked it up again, and finished it in about a week. I think the reason I couldn’t finish it the first time is also my main problem with this relatively good novel. The book has hardly any continuity. Now, it is the point, some would say, of this novel, that it has no continuity, but regardless of that fact, it did not add to the reading experience. It is a novel of beginnings, 10 in fact, held together loosely with the story of a Reader (told amusingly in the second person) who wants to read one book, there is an error, and he reads another instead, and another, and another, and so on. The books don’t really have anything to do with each other, which annoys the Reader. And the reader. I read this book expecting some grand revelation at the end, tying everything together, and it was there to a degree, but really not enough to be satisfying. It ends happily, which is good, but not satisfactorily. Rather than wanting the main narrative of the Reader to end, I wanted to read more from each of the individual stories (each with its own characteristic style, which is very impressive), just like the Reader.
This is a book about reading. Which is nice. Calvino really understands the joys of opening a new book, and leafing through the pages, devouring each word as soon as it shows up. The hero, as I have mentioned, is a typical Reader, who falls in love with another Reader, and they end up married. However, this reading about reading was a little too meta for my tastes.
I have only read one other Italo Calvino book, which I loved. It was “Invisible Cities,” which I actually read for a class, but it became one of my favorite books. Alas, this one did not stand up to measure. Calvino is one for strange, out there novels, and unfortunately his experiment with this one was not a success. However, as you can see from my somewhat favorable rating, a failure for Calvino is still much better than many books I have read. So, I recommend Calvino fully. But read “Invisible Cities,” and leave the “traveler” alone on his winter night.