03 November 2017

Book Review: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

Every now and then, I would pick up a book, and upon finishing it, I would feel completely mesmerized, amazed, and wanting to re-read it there and then. I don't encounter books like this often, but I must say If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino is one of them. There's only a few books I can recall reading that really made me admire the writer's wit and talent. These are books that would make me want to give them a rating of 6 out of 5 stars: books such as The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, Blindness by José Saramago, and Perfume by Patrick Süskind. These are books that you enter, and when you exit at the other side, you just think, What had just happened?

This novel was written in 1979, and is classified as a post-modernist novel. And believe it or not, the hero of this book is you, the reader. Written in the second-person narrative, the book tells your story, as you begin reading the new novel by Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. You start reading this book, but later on realizes that there was a printing mistake. After page 32, the book repeats from page 17. So you head back to the bookstore to get a replacement copy. Except the second copy you got had nothing to do with the first copy.

Thus begins a chase, you, the reader, trying to get your hands on the real novel, and along the way you encounter Ludmilla, her sister Lotaria, a translator Ermes Marana, an author Silas Flannery, and many others. Heck, in your attempt to find the ultimate real novel, you even become a spy working for a fictional government. This is really a bizarre mindfuck of a novel, and something I definitely recommend.

See, every odd-numbered chapter is about you, the reader. And every even-numbered chapter is the book you are reading, except they don't continue. They describe various different stories in different narrative styles, including a diary, an erotic novel, a detective adventure, a satire, and so on. Really, this feels like 10 different books in one. And it also is a philosophical novel, tackling questions like whether the second-person reader that is described in the book is different from the actual reader or not. There is also the issue of absolute truth, or writer's objectivity. There are plenty of philosophical issues that parade between the lines, that I just find myself being immersed deeper and deeper in the world of this book, which David Mitchell called "breathtakingly inventive". I would definitely agree.

Overall, this book is quite intellectual, but also amusing and engaging. It is very metafictional, which I find a mindfuck every now and then. But to be honest, it still makes me laugh, and I must say, I definitely enjoyed reading this. I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and as I said, I would be happy to give this one 6 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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