If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
By: Italo Calvino
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.
I must’ve had this book since I got back from my exchange two years ago and never gotten around to it. I’ve always felt that I needed to be in a particular mood or it has to be a particular season to read this (see my 10 books to read during the winter list). I’ve read his other notable work, Invisible Cities (review) earlier this year and absolutely loved it so I was definitely looking forward to reading this book.
Having finished reading the book the other day and taking a day to let everything sink in, I’m still not entirely sure how to go about this review. I can see why many reviewers remark that it’s a strange experience: like the blurb of the book mentions, you, the reader, are the hero of the story so it’s pretty interactive in that you are the shoes of the protagonist.
It also has the book-within-a-book concept that is interesting. You start off with a book that is interesting but there is a defect in the publication. You search for a complete version of the book only to find out that the book given to you is the start of another novel. And so forth and so on…most of these snippets were interesting and stem from different genres, though I do admit that there were two stories somewhere midway that didn’t interest me as much.
This book however tackles the major theme of readers and their connection and love of reading/the written word. At one point it also discusses the role of the author and his or her connection to their readers and the writing process itself. I thought these themes were interesting, both as an avid reader and as an aspiring writer.
Overall, I’m glad I got around to reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. It once again solidifies my interest in the author’s work; he certainly has a unique voice and approach to themes and storytelling. Unlike Invisible Cities, I felt this novel is more on ideas than emotions per se but it’s interesting nonetheless. If the format of the novel and Calvino’s metaphysical approach to these concepts doesn’t turn you off, it’s certainly worth checking out.