Tedious, pretentious, and unejoyable, I still somehow found this novel satisfying
There is no shortage of praise for this If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino, and it has been recommended to me by more than one person. It so happened that there was a copy available at the library when I was between books, and it seemed as good a time to read it.
If on a winter’s night a traveler is a very recursive story about a Reader trying to read a book, but due to bookbinding errors or various other circumstances, is unable to finsih reading it. In search of the rest of a given book, he inevitably comes across another book, which he is also unable to finish. One of the gimmicks of the book is that it is somewhat written in the second-person (as opposed to the first-person or third-person), which, for me, did not serve to enhance any aspect of the story (perhaps it even subtracted from it).
Thee reader gets to read a sample of each of the 10 unfinished books, and for me, the novel came off as both tedious and pretentious. While I did not find the novel enjoyable, I couldn’t say it wasn’t interesting or worthwhile. One of the themes of the novel concern the story that is happening just beyond the page, by the words that aren’t there. On several levels, the reader is exposed to this aspect of the experience of a story, and it is satisfyingly captured in the novel’s title, and in the title of all the unfinished novels his main character (which he might argue is you, the reader… but I have to say that this was not pulled off convincingly). The sentence fragment of the titles invite the reader to peer into what comes next, into what they weren’t told, and I can’t help but find this a pleasant little device.
For me, If on a winter’s night a traveler read like a series of writing excercises that the author, on a whim, decided to tie together and publish as a novel. I found it tedious and pretentious, and while I didn’t enjoy it, I have to say that by its end I had to appreciate it, for while it often felt frivolous and haphazard, I had to conceed that it was a tight little piece of writing. What made me appreciate this work was the clever and incredibly satisfying ending. Even not having really liked it, the ending was crafted well enough that I still wanted to lean back and say with a satisfied “Aahhhh.”