TITLE: If On A Winter's Night A Traveller
AUTHOR: Italo Calvino
PUBLISHER: Vintage Classics
GENRE: Classics, Literary Fiction, European Literature
RATING: 2.5/5 Stars
You go into a bookshop and buy If on a Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. You like it. But there is a printer's error in your copy. You take it back to the shop and get a replacement. But the replacement seems to be a totally different story. You try to track down the original book you were reading but end up with a different narrative. This remarkable novel leads you through many different books including a detective adventure, a romance, a satire, an erotic story, a diary and a quest. But the hero of them all is you, the reader.
What I Liked:
- I loved the beginning. Unique in that it was in second person, and instantly gripping as 'you' settle down to read the first novel of many. The plot-line looked so promising! Stories within a story, each different and giving me the frustrated feeling that my character felt at not being able to finish it. I really did begin enthralled and desperate to read more as I reached each page.
- Each 'story' was well-written. As I progressed through the book as a whole, the short beginnings of novels that I was exposed to were captivating in their own right. There wasn't a distinct style. It really felt like each 'book' was written by a different author, and was not Calvino trying his hand at a few different genres as he goes along. In that respect, hats off to him.
- I loved the use of second person! It is so rarely found in narratives but here, it fitted in perfectly with what I felt Calvino was trying to achieve with the book as a whole. Switching to first person for the individual novels also meant that it was easier to distinguish between 'stories'.
- The lack of endings for each book was frustrating. Now this I suppose didn't cause me too much of a problem. It was, I believe, the point of the book to empathise with your character in their desire to finish each and every book they started. It did get to a point though, as the book went on, where I wondered 'what is the point of reading these?' Yes they were well-written, but they were only beginnings. I was never going to get the end and so it all got a bit repetitive and pointless in that respect.
- The ending for the second-person narrative just got ridiculous. I started off loving the story that ran alongside each excerpt from the novels that you read, as I have previously mentioned. But there came a point, where it just became ridiculous. One minute, you are complaining to the bookstore, visiting the publishing firm for answers and even building up a romantic relationship with a fellow frustrated reader on the side. This was all believable. But then suddenly, from nowhere, you're part of some international book plot, arrested and hired by the 'book police' and the whole confusion seems to be some big plot thought up by a jealous ex-boyfriend of your new lover. I just didn't get it.
- I didn't like the characters. Now this was a big problem for me. I liked your character, 'the reader' a lot. And the other reader that you meet, Ludmilla, is supposed to be likeable I suppose. She is after all, your romantic interest. The problem is, I couldn't stand her. Her opinions annoyed me, the fact that every male character in the book seemed to be after her annoyed me, everything about her annoyed me. The developing relationship between the two didn't even feel like it was there because she spent most of it being arrogant and bossy and playing hard to get, before suddenly jumping into bed with your character. Her arguments with her equally as annoying sister just wound me up, and in the end I just tried to blank the both of them out of my mind to keep going (very hard to do, considering that everyone just seems so fixated on her).
- I didn't understand the message that Calvino was trying to get across. Was he even trying to put one forward? It felt like he was trying to make a point but the problem is I didn't understand what that was. Whether that was purposeful or not I don't know, but it left me confused and irritated.
I am divided over this book. I loved the beginning, hated the end. I want to frame it and hang it on my wall, yet I want to erase it from my memory too. I don't think I have ever had such a change of opinion as I have read a book before. My opinion normally remains fairly consistent from beginning to end. One part of me feels like Calvino has done something really clever that I haven't quite figured out yet. But the other half of me reckons that he got a spot of writer's block, kept starting stories and not finishing them, then suddenly decided to just paste them together one day and make a book out of them. My theory is that this is one of those books that some will find inspirational and fall in love with. But it didn't do it for me, sorry.