Monday, February 17, 2014

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (by Italo Calvino)

This book was highly and repeatedly recommended by Ian, and I finally read it. It's a postmodernist novel that's really the beginnings of 10 other novels, with an extremely Nabokovian streak to it (and I am not the first person who recognized this, either--Calvino was apparently influenced by Nabokov, and Pale Fire is mentioned on the Wikipedia page for this novel). For a sense of it, read the first chapter here. I love this first chapter. I kept sending paragraphs to a friend of mine because they were so deeply delightful. And the ending is so, so wonderful, the penultimate chapter's meditation on what it means to be a reader especially.

I was reading this while also re-reading Cloud Atlas, which made for a really interesting back and forth. The Calvino novel, like I said, is made up of a meta plotline interspersed with the beginnings of other novels in different genres and styles. Cloud Atlas is a series of interlocking stories where first you get all the beginnings, then all the endings in reverse order. The reading experience was so similar and yet so different, I just loved going from one to the other.

Of course, then I finished the book and immediately went to the internet, and the very first thing I found was an essay by David Mitchell where he said If on a Winter's Night a Traveler blew his mind when he first read it at sixteen. He writes, "My curiosity got stung to its core by the question, 'What would a novel where interrupted narratives are continued later look like?' I've just spent three years delicately extracting that sting by writing that very novel." The novel he was talking about is, of course, Cloud Atlas. WHAT.

So to sum up, this novel is the bridge between Pale Fire and Cloud Atlas, two of my favorite novels. I finished this novel and found that out, and my brain basically exploded with postmodernist glee. Definitely recommended if you enjoy metatextual stuff; I've never read anything else quite like it. But almost.


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