If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino [Book Review]
About a quarter into this book, I thought: ‘Wow. What an extraordinary read.’
Halfway through, it became quite repetitive.
After 3/4 out of it, I found it rather boring.
In the end, I was definitely disappointed.
Contrary to what it may seem, the impression I got from ‘If on a winter’s night a traveler’ by Italo Calvino was it was not as much a book about reading as it was about writing – and writing techniques and tips in general. Considering this background, it was extremely anticlimatic that the reason why Ludmilla (The Other Reader) reads books is a superficial one – simply for the sake of reading on the spur of the moment and not caring at all about the process through which the book was written and the person by whom it was written. In other words, reading had become mechanical for her, simply a turning of the page – because she didn’t feel the books at all – not with her heart and certainly not with her brain.
The major positive aspect of this novel, though, is the second person narrative voice. It’s innovative, it’s different, it completely catches you offhand and makes you curious. For this I give Mr. Calvino all my respect. For the others – not quite so. While the micro narrations that made up the beginnings of the ten interrupted novels seemed interesting at first – especially analyzing them through the initiated second person comments – after a while they got somewhat repetitive, simply because, (precisely how the author wanted), they all seemed retellings of the same stories, or rather, the same generic characters thrown into different backgrounds.
Because this was one of the major drawbacks of the book – the characters. I don’t have anything against The Reader that becomes a character – not at all; but the female characters are awful. They might want to give off the aura of mystery, of something deep and complicated underneath – but they have no substance to build that aura upon – simply because they are simplistic in nature. Now and then a fighter-like quality surfaced in some of them (such as Lotaria or one of the Irinas) and that seemed to redeem them a bit; but later on the same, dozed off apparent mystery came back.
The second drawback was the plot beyond the micro narrations – or rather, Italo Calvino’s hectic, dissipated attempts to link the pretexts why The Reader was interrupted each time. There is no plot to start with – you should take what’s beyond those beginnings of stories either as commentaries on writing styles or as incoherent happenings that involve The Reader, The Other Reader and The Books – happenings and that lead to nowhere in particular.
Conclusion: The novel begun excellent, but unfortunately went downhill chapter by chapter. It’s still a pretty good read though – especially if you have tried writing something yourself.
Review written back in 2011 on Goodreads.