I know I’ve posted several things about this book in recent weeks, but after finishing it, I can’t help gushing about it. Anyone who enjoys unique books should run to the nearest bookstore/library and pick up a copy of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino. I’ve posted synopses for it before (as well as read synopses before) but none of them have successfully conveyed the true essence of this book. Even after thinking on it for several hours, I’m still not sure if I can explain it to my liking. The closest I could come was this:
If On A Winter’s Night is a novel about the experience of reading, the engagement found in the beginning of a novel, the total immersion that a true Reader experiences when reading, and the desperation experienced when that engagement is interrupted. It is ultimately about the relationship between a reader and a story and about the different ways that readers can look at a story.
In this piece, Italo Calvino manages to write in such a way as to fully control the experience of the reader while reading this novel. (Note: Reader [with capital R] and “you” [complete with ” “] refer to the narrator of the novel. reader [lower case r] and you [no quotation marks] refer to the person who is reading the novel.) The Reader of the novel has the simple desire to finish one of the novels he has started, and, whether it is through his writing or simply through the use of “you”, the reader easily slips into the place of the Reader, adopting his emotions and desires and feelings. The Reader’s desire to finish a book is paralleled by his desire to win the affection of The Other Reader, and both of them grow to such an extent that the Reader is willing to cross oceans and suffer jail to achieve them both.
Although the story gets somewhat convoluted, Calvino’s writing style is so beautiful, that a reader could easily read the story without following the plot at all, and yet still finish the book with an incredible sense of awe at the beauty of the flow of the words and sentences together. When I was reading, there were several instances where I read a page twice, once to enjoy the words and once to enjoy the story. On top of this, (and in my opinion Calvino’s greatest accomplishment in writing) this novel contains 10 first chapters of 10 different novels, but these 10 chapters are not written as a narration, but instead are written as a narration that has been run through the filter of the Reader. In other words, the chapters are about you reading the Reader’s experience of reading a first chapter of a novel. And, almost miraculously, most of them are so engaging that I didn’t care about the story of the Reader while reading the first chapters; i only wanted the novel that the first chapter belonged to to continue.
So, now that you have that incredibly confusing review of this book, you should go out and read it so that you can tell me if this makes sense =P