You go into a bookshop and buy If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. You like it. But there is a printer’s error in your copy. You take it back to the shop and get a replacement. But the replacement seems to be a totally different story. You try to track down the original book you were reading but end up with a different narrative again. This remarkable novel leads you through many different books including a detective adventure, a romance, a satire, an erotic story, a diary and a quest. But the hero of them all is you, the reader.
-Vintage Classics If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller blurb.
Never has the small piece of writing on the back of a book summed up a novel so perfectly. A blurb is intended to give incite into a book, to give a small idea of what kind of journey you are about to undertake. In the case of Vintage the blurb tells you everything that you will find in the book, including the end of the story. It is almost sacrilege for a novel to reveal its secrets -in the blurb, of all things- and yet, the very fact that you know the ending of the book…
Makes not even the tiniest bit of difference.
Every reader would tell you that when reading a book, it is less about the ending and more about the journey you undertake. It is never spoken truer than over this novel. Knowing the end to If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller won’t change how much you will read into this book. You will experience in this journey what it is like to be told who you are as a reader; to redefine yourself within the structure of a narrative. You will either immerse your mind completely into redefining yourself, or you will fight back with every instinct in your body.
I’ve spoken to many people who have read this book and they have one of two reactions.
They either love it and admire it for the genius it is; praise it for its clever word use, its ability to have you question everything it lays out before you, and its unpredictability.
They completely loathe the book for the challenge it presents in the reading. They rip out every single page one by one and hurl the cover out of a newly replaced window. They collect all of the ripped pages and cast spells over them so that they will forget the contents, then individually burn each piece of parchment, laughing like the sea-witch from The Little Mermaid.
When reading the book I found myself both frustrated and fascinated. No other book I have read has mastered the art of second person so flawlessly. It is fairly clear that the portrayal of ‘the reader’ is a man, and though I am a woman, I found it highly intriguing that a book would have the nerve to tell me how to feel and think throughout the story. I can truly appreciate the genius that has gone behind it. The wonder of this book is that it makes you work hard and once you have finished reading you can’t stifle the thought that you are that much more intelligent, thanks to the intricate way the story is directed. This book both builds up your dreams and then brings them crashing down… and I loved it the whole time.
This is one of the most imaginative books I have ever experienced, and would gladly experience again.