‘Unusual’ is probably the best word that I can use to describe Calvino’s novel. Is it a ‘novel’ I wonder or is it an experiment of sorts? The book is structured as a collection of unfinished stories with more linear narrative interspersed, and I found a challenging and intriguing read. Via the protagonist (who sometimes appears to be you the reader and sometimes another reader – confusing yes?) Calvino takes a journey through a sequence of different stories, and often talking directly to the reader to explore how and why people read and twisting perceptions about what a book should be.
Calvino’s writing is beautiful – he’s a skilled writer capable of beautiful descriptions and cleverly expressed ideas, but reading If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller is often quite a painful experience because it seriously messes with your head. The first chapter is misleadingly easy to read and very engaging. The first ‘story’ seems to be leading you somewhere exciting until… it cuts of abruptly. Sometimes I loved the way that Calvino seems to speak to you and get into your thought process and sometimes this technique felt quite invasive. I still can’t decide if I think that he is merely a playful writer or a bit pompous – perhaps a bit of both?
The funny thing is, that Calvino pulls it off (kind of). When I finally struggled to the end of the book which felt epic despite it’s modest 270 pages, I felt that it was worth it and I did get what he was trying to do. I can’t rate it highly as a book as it wasn’t enjoyable read 90% of the time, however I can’t give it a low score, because I did think it was clever, quite beautiful conceived in parts and really unlike anything I’ve ever read before.
Read what some of my fellow book-groupers thought about If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller:
Reading Matters – “While I admire Calvino’s ambition, his ideas, his ability to turn our notion of a novel on its head, this book clearly wasn’t for me.”
Savidge Reads – “A weird book that annoyingly defeated me…”
Chasing Bawa – “I think I can forgive him the mind f*ck, because he ended it quite simply, quite beautifully.”
What books have you come across that stretched your idea of what reading is about?