“If on a winter’s night a traveler” by Italo Calvino is a very strange book, and unlike most things I’ve ever read. It is also, for reasons that will become clear shortly, an entirely mixed bag.
“If on a winter’s night” starts off in second person, and explains to you, the reader, the actions you are taking in preparation for reading the book. This second person narrative continues on every odd chapter, and is interspersed with opening chapters of a number of fictitious works (All even chapters). Throughout the book, Calvino describes various reasons why the reader (you) are interrupted from reading the current work. After chapter two (the first story) the reader is interrupted because the book is misprinted, and instead of the whole book, the first chapter is said to be repeated ad infinitum. Upon obtaining a ‘fixed’ copy during chapter three, he (you, the reader) finds that it is another book entirely.
Throughout the book, the methods which Calvino introduces as excuses to cut a story short seem increasingly contrived, but yet somehow work very well within the context of the story. I really appreciate the meta-style that this book has, as it makes a number of commentaries on the practice of reading and writing. The shame, I feel, is that the book (having been written in 1979) is somewhat dated. I would be interested to see how the inclusion of things like the internet would have affected Calvino’s story (if at all).
The expositions (as they are by no means complete stories) which the reader reads vary widely. I found that they were more good than bad, and in general, left me wanting more of most of the stories (obviously Calvino’s intention). Also nice is that if one particular ‘story’ starts to drag, it won’t be long before it is over, and you can continue on.
All in all I really enjoyed this book, and would never have found it if it weren’t for a very good friend of mine. I would easily suggest this book to anyone looking for something less than linear. However if a concrete, linear structure is that important to you, then this book might be hard to swallow.
P.S.: I am behind on my reviews, and have already finished my next book (The Great Gatsby). Look for my review of that after the holiday.