If on a winter’s night a traveller, by Italo Calvino

If on a winter’s night a traveler is a problem-novel. Like Nabokov’s Pale Fire, it has an internal and an external story, which circle around one another like a DNA double-helix. The reader has to work to figure it out. Calvino alternates chapters about a reader with chapters of the novels he reads. The first chapter-pair is declamatory, turgid, preachy, verbose and infuriatingly self-indulgent. So I was utterly shocked to discover that Calvino had pulled his act together by the second pair of chapters and produced an extraordinary novel that, at its best, is beyond first-rate. The book risks being too clever at times – it is a daring experiment, but ultimately a success.

In the first chapters, the only hint of the better work to come is a remarkable feel for imagery, to which Calvino grants ever-increasing freedom. Calvino’s absolutely brilliant visual imagination is reminiscent of Nabokov, and especially Kafka. Calvino confirmed in a published interview that he admired Kafka above all; many of his passages are extremely like Kafka and the overall structure is even more so. At the end of the first chapter, the protagonist’s abrupt expulsion recalls Amerika; later he pays a visit to the bureaucratic maze of a publishing office run by an elusive high official which unmistakably suggests The Castle.

Kafka is a dream-like environment in which the protagonist can never settle down: a group of strangers befriends the protagonist for no reason; he gets used to it. But as soon as he becomes comfortable, he is ripped away and whisked off to another new strange place. Calvino performs this operation on two separate tracks, in parallel: every time his unnamed protagonist settles into a novel he likes, the story breaks off suddenly for one reason or another. The protagonist tries to find the next chapter, only to discover he has begun a new, different novel, and must be drawn into a new story all over again. Accompanying this first track, the protagonist’s journey from one novel to the next begins in an ordinary, realistic environment, and gradually unravels itself in a progression of increasingly strange events. We start on a beach and wade deeper into Kafka’s ocean until we’re all under water. Only the narrator does not find his predicament as strange as he should – this too, is a staple of Kafkan writing.

Calvino explains clearly, through the mouth of a fictitious novelist character, what he wanted to achieve by ripping the reader out of the start of a story again and again: “The romantic fascination produced in the pure state by the first sentences of the first chapter of many novels is soon lost in the continuation of the story….I would like to be able to write a book that is only an incipit, that maintains for its whole duration the potentiality of the beginning.”

Once you move beyond the initial failure of the opening chapter, the stories that follow are so intense, vivid, enticing and so resplendent with imagery that you’re put in mind of a painting by Klimt. I will return to this book again, for fresh discoveries.

Imagination: 10/10

Imagery: 10/10

Technical originality: 10/10

Technical execution: 8/10

Self-restraint: 6-7/10

Overall Goodness Rating (OGR): 8/10

If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino.  1979, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino.  This edition, 1981, Harcourt, damn fine translation by William Weaver. 260 pages.

483 thoughts on “If on a winter’s night a traveller, by Italo Calvino

  1. Pingback: Approved viagra
  2. Pingback: cialis pill
  3. Pingback: cialis canada
  4. Pingback: is cialis generic
  5. Pingback: US viagra sales
  6. Pingback: levitra vs viagra
  7. Pingback: buy naltrexone
  8. Pingback: cialis pills
  9. Pingback: cialis coupon
  10. Pingback: viagra 100mg
  11. Pingback: cheap viagra
  12. Pingback: viagra 100mg
  13. Pingback: generic ed pills
  14. Pingback: pills for erection
  15. Pingback: online ed pills
  16. Pingback: walmart pharmacy
  17. Pingback: Buy cheap cialis
  18. Pingback: generic vardenafil
  19. Pingback: vardenafil canada
  20. Pingback: levitra
  21. Pingback: cialis 20 mg
  22. Pingback: faq about viagra
  23. Pingback: tadalafil dosage
  24. Pingback: cash payday
  25. Pingback: loan online
  26. Pingback: viagra cost
  27. Pingback: generic cialis
  28. Pingback: melinda
  29. Pingback: cialis to buy
  30. Pingback: cialis 5 mg
  31. Pingback: new cialis
  32. Pingback: new cialis
  33. Pingback: slots online
  34. Pingback: slot machine
  35. Pingback: real casino online
  36. Pingback: sildenafil 20 mg
  37. Pingback: when to buy viagra
  38. Pingback: viagra coupon
  39. Pingback: purchase viagra
  40. Pingback: viagra canada
  41. Pingback: viagra online
  42. Pingback: viagra samples
  43. Pingback: liquid tadalafil
  44. Pingback: buy viagra pills
  45. Pingback: ed meds online
  46. Pingback: gambling games
  47. Pingback: cialis otc
  48. Pingback: cheap Viagra 25 mg
  49. Pingback: Viagra 25mg prices
  50. Pingback: viagra sale
  51. Pingback: Viagra 120 mg otc
  52. Pingback: buy cialis online
  53. Pingback: Viagra 130 mg usa
  54. Pingback: Cialis 10 mg nz
  55. Pingback: viagra substitute
  56. Pingback: Cialis 60mg tablet
  57. Pingback: generic cialis
  58. Pingback: online viagra
  59. Pingback: cheap Cialis 80 mg
  60. Pingback: Cialis 20mg cost
  61. Pingback: rxtrust pharm
  62. Pingback: cost of lasix 40mg
  63. Pingback: buy viagra online
  64. Pingback: viagra canada
  65. Pingback: arava 10mg cost
  66. Pingback: RxTrustPharm
  67. Pingback: arimidex 1mg cost
  68. Pingback: cvs cialis
  69. Pingback: atarax 25 mg otc
  70. Pingback: buy line viagra
  71. Pingback: sildenafil coupons
  72. Pingback: buy tadalafil
  73. Pingback: viagra 90 pills
  74. Pingback: ceclor otc
  75. Pingback: ceftin canada
  76. Pingback: tadalafil
  77. Pingback: claritin generic
  78. Pingback: cialis 20mg
  79. Pingback: online casinos
  80. Pingback: real money casino
  81. Pingback: free slots
  82. Pingback: 40 viagra online
  83. Pingback: safe car insurance
  84. Pingback: buy cialis online
  85. Pingback: generic cialis
  86. Pingback: buy cialis usa
  87. Pingback: personal loans
  88. Pingback: 25 mg viagra
  89. Pingback: buy levitra usa
  90. Pingback: buy essay online
  91. Pingback: buy custom essays
  92. Pingback: write my paper
  93. Pingback: homework research
  94. Pingback: cleocin for sale
  95. Pingback: clomid cheap
  96. Pingback: Viagra australia
  97. Pingback: Pharmacy viagra
  98. Pingback: cialis in patong
  99. Pingback: cialis online
  100. Pingback: viagra
  101. Pingback: cheap cozaar 25 mg
  102. Pingback: thesis consultant
  103. Pingback: ddavp 0.1mg coupon
  104. Pingback: depakote usa
  105. Pingback: diamox australia
  106. Pingback: differin tablet
  107. Pingback: dramamine cost
  108. Pingback: how to buy elavil
  109. Pingback: online cialis
  110. Pingback: cialis price
  111. Pingback: how to buy imodium
  112. Pingback: viagra 100mg
  113. Pingback: Our site
  114. Pingback: cheap imuran 50 mg
  115. Pingback: lopid coupon
  116. Pingback: mobic uk
  117. Pingback: viagra 50 mg
  118. Pingback: periactin pills
  119. Pingback: prilosec nz
  120. Pingback: proscar 5 mg price
  121. Pingback: provigil tablet
  122. Pingback: buy pyridium
  123. Pingback: risperdal coupon
  124. Pingback: skelaxin tablets
  125. Pingback: cheap tenormin
  126. Pingback: toprol price
  127. Pingback: valtrex canada
  128. Pingback: cheap verapamil
  129. Pingback: wellbutrin usa
  130. Pingback: zanaflex cheap
  131. Pingback: her response
  132. Pingback: cheapest zovirax
  133. Pingback: viagra jet lag
  134. Pingback: zyprexa canada
  135. Pingback: zyvox for sale
  136. Pingback: buy furosemide
  137. Pingback: fexofenadine cost
  138. Pingback: donepezil price
  139. Pingback: cheap olmesartan
  140. Pingback: brand cialis 20mg
  141. Pingback: cialis sale 20mg
  142. Pingback: loratadine pills
  143. Pingback: buy cialis now
  144. Pingback: buy viagra mumbai
  145. Pingback: carvedilol generic
  146. Pingback: fluconazole pills
  147. Pingback: doxycycline cheap
  148. Pingback: bisacodyl generic
  149. Pingback: 141generic2Exare
  150. Pingback: cheap erythromycin
  151. Pingback: utjnyspx
  152. Pingback: jqcaqubu
  153. Pingback: what is viagra for
  154. Pingback: hoe vaak viagra
  155. Pingback: glipizide generic
  156. Pingback: buy cialis drug
  157. Pingback: viagra results
  158. Pingback: cialis sale 20mg
  159. Pingback: viagra cost
  160. Pingback: cialis sale 20mg
  161. Pingback: cialis sale 20mg
  162. Pingback: cialis sale 20mg
  163. Pingback: 625mg amoxicillin
  164. Pingback: ivermectin humans
  165. Pingback: albuterol ventolin
  166. Pingback: clotrimazole cost
  167. Pingback: clomid at 40
  168. Pingback: what is priligy
  169. Pingback: diflucan prices
  170. Pingback: college essay help
  171. Pingback: psychology thesis
  172. Pingback: propecia cost
  173. Pingback: price of neurontin
  174. Pingback: paxil and nyquil
  175. Pingback: plaquenil macula