Who am I?

Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller is probably one of the oddest books you'll ever read. It's one of the great post-modern novels, a truly surreal read. The book opens with you, the reader, entering a bookshop to buy Italo Calvino's latest book If on a winter's night a traveller. This section has one of my very favourite literary metaphors as the reader prepares to leave the shop with their newly acquired novel: You cast another bewildered look at the books around you (or, rather: it was the books that looked at you, with the bewildered gaze of dogs who, from their cages in the city pound, see a former companion go off on the leash of his master, come to rescue him), and out you went. I love the idea of books as sentient beings, preparing to leave for their new home-for-life.

Book is bought, and reader starts to read it, only to discover that the book is damaged, and has to be returned to the shop. The shopkeeper is unable to give you, the reader, an undamaged copy and so we are launched into the novel. The basic premise of the story being that the opening story If on a winter's night is never finished as a series of other stories interrupt with each story supposedly being connected to the previous story; although it soon becomes clear that none of the stories are actually connected to each other except by the most nebulous of threads. The reader is then taken on a journey to a little known South American country to try and retrieve the manuscript of the book, along the way he falls in love, fights against censorship, and re-discovers his love of reading.

Meanwhile the true reader (you, me etc.) has become in turns the reader, a character in the book, and the author. Confused? Well, yes, this novel is like that, turning your usual conceptions of the novel and what it should do, on its head. It's very clever, but it doesn't altogether work. The opening chapters are great, in fact the first half of the book is great, after that I found it more cumbersome and harder to engage with, as story is piled on story and character on character. But it's worth reading if only for its sheer oddity value, and the complexity has to be read to be believed.


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