Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveller

Since it was written in 1979, translated in 1981, I shouldn't have been surprised to find Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller to be ... a little bit of a wankfest. High theory, put into action. Well, into words, of course, but high theory nonetheless: pure metafiction.

But it was good stuff nonetheless -- or maybe because of that.

I mean, it ends with happiness, happiness for the characters that promises happiness in the world for we readers, and that's not something I expect from theory.

The concept is straightforward: there's a Reader (you), and the Other Reader (Ludmilla, who you fall for), and the two of you are just trying to read a book. But the book is incomplete, and when you track down another copy, it's different. So Calvino's book is a dozen chapters about the Readers, and about the same number from these other books. All the chapters from the imagined other books feel as Calvino-ish as the ones about the Readers, but it's self-consciously fictional anyway, intensely self-conscious, so that's no complaint.

(Though I can't imagine I'm the only one who sees some fairly oppressive cultural stereotyping here, especially in the Japanese "book"....)

And there are after all some lovely lines and images, and in the end that's all I wanted. It was a bonus to see two readers find love through and in words at the same time; I need to see others engaged in hoping.


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