Author: Italo Calvino
Details: (c) 1979 Giulio Einaudi; Translated by William Weaver; Translation (c) 1981 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc; Pub Harvest / HBJ c 1981 ; ISBN 0-15-643961-1
Verdict: If on a winter's night a traveller is more fun than I expected but somewhat unsatisfying.
Reasons for reading it: It's one of those Great Books I've been meaning to read for ages. What prompted me to pick it up this time was the thought that it's the kind of thing that Dever would deeply disapprove of.
How it came into my hands: My famous book-shopping spree in Montreal in 2005.
If on a winter's night a traveller is the kind of book that can very easily be pretentious and annoying, and it's saved from that because it's extremely playful. It's also very aesthetically appealing; yes, it's a show-offy book, but Calvino has something to show off about and Weaver's translation is top-notch. The trouble is that the fragmented structure meant that although I enjoyed myself while I was reading it, I didn't feel any inclination to pick it up again once I'd put it down. And I like stories too much to appreciate this kind of anti-novel fully.
Taken as a whole, I would say the series of beginnings could be more different from eachother than they are; if this were simply a collection of shorts I would consider it a little samey. The one thing that stuck out was that all the male characters have similarly creepy attitudes to women. I normally don't have a problem relating to male characters, but I can't really deal with people who operate by putting women into situations where it's between awkward and impossible to say no to further intimacy. I think that issue is especially jarring because of the way the framing story is addressed in the second person, which is terribly clever and all, but it makes it more annoying when "You" are described as being slimy and obnoxious.
But with that small quibble, IoaWNaT is a very enjoyable book. It made me laugh and it also made me smile in appreciation of the artistry and the silly but thought-provoking paradoxes and playing with levels and stuff. I can definitely see why people are passionate about this book. It reminds me a bit of Pale Fire and I suspect it's also probably similar to Zazie dans le metro, which is very high on the list of books I want to read but which I only know from Hofstadter's description of it.