WHAT IT IS: If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino, is a novel that presents itself as a collection of short stories. Or a collection of short stories that presents itself as a novel. Or a novella connected by a series of short stories; I haven’t quite decided which. The chapters of the novel are divided into two parts: the first part describes the adventures of “you,” an avid reader who goes in search of the missing parts of a recently purchased novel, and the second part is the beginning of each novel “you” find.
The beginnings have two things in common: they leave off at the climax, and they are never continued in the rest of the book. Indeed, that is the quest of “you” – to find the rest of the novels to which these introductions are part of.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT IT: If on a winter’s night a traveler has been one of the most difficult books I’ve read in the last year. It mainly seems to be dealing with questions of authority, authenticity, and trustworthiness. Can I believe what an author says in his books? Is what the author describes a true belief or a contradiction meant to point out an inconsistency? Like the mirrors described in one of the novel beginnings, this story acts as a kaleidoscope, infinitely expanding and reflecting and collapsing back upon itself.
To be honest, I’m still not sure what I think of this book. Was this a true meditation on the purpose of readers, writers, and novels in general? Or was it meant to point out the futility of such questions? I don’t know, I don’t know! But it’s definitely on my list of must re-reads.
WHY I READ IT: My partner gave me this book as part of my Christmas present. He got me “Cosmicomics,” also by Italo Calvino, for my birthday, and since I enjoyed that one he figured he’d might as well get me another. Plus one to him for deductive reasoning.