This Italo Calvino’s novel is probably the most complicated novel I have ever read in my life. From the beginning I have been criticizing every strange passage (and indeed, there are so many!), and put effort to note them down. I suspect there are similar aspects in those different unfinished novels, one theme that binds them. So, I was looking for it. Here are some of my thoughts on first half of the book. If you haven’t read it, you’d better stop reading right now as it would contain a lot of spoilers. It’s your choice of course, but you have been warned!
Novel # 1 – If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
The main character of the whole book is the reader (or ourselves); he is reading Calvino’s latest novel: “If on a winter’s night a traveler”. It’s about a man who arrives at a station but misses the connection. He carries a suitcase, and his instruction is to meet a contact to exchange the suitcase with (he is anxious to get rid of it). Here I sensed an invisible power (organization); the man seemed to be an innocent pawn; only being used for a mysterious purpose. He wants to return to zero moment and reestablish the normal course. The organization is so powerful it can control police and railroads. There is also smoke from the locomotive which seems to block the narrator’s reading.
Novel # 2 – Outside the town of Malbork by Tazio Bazakbal
Gritzvi must switch places with Ponko, as each would stay with the other’s family to learn something about farming. Gritzvi is afraid of losing his past which would soon be Ponko’s, so he fights him. The narrator meets a guy who forces himself not to read anything because he is sick of all kinds of writing that bombard him in daily life.
Novel # 3 – Leaning from the steep slope by Ukko Ahti
The narrator of THIS novel (not our narrator--it’s a bit confusing, I know!) feels that the world sends him signals and messages. He meets a woman who often meets a convict in prison, and asks the narrator’s help to buy her a grapnel (anchor) with long rope. The fishers refuse to sell the grapnel, fearing that it will be used as an escape tool by prisoners. The narrator is also ‘forced’ to help a meteorologist to take care of his observatory while he is leaving, but then two men ask questions about the meteorologist. Seems that the innocent narrator has been used in some fishy trick, eh? While taking care of meteorological instrument, the narrator feels like controlling the universe. The story ends abruptly, and the Professor who is reading it explains that reading is reaching something immaterial through writing material (wordless language?). The Other Reader (who is reading together with our narrator) argues that as a reader she needs to know that the material book exist that she can read it. There is a sense of power here, we readers seems to lack control of books we like to read.
Novel # 4 – Without fear of wind or vertigo – Vorts Viljandi
On duty in a war, Officer Alex Zinnober helps a girl, Irina, to cross a bridge when she is having vertigo after looking at the void down below. He finds out that Irina is the girlfriend of his friend Valerian, whom he has been spying for a traitor. Irina is a dominating girl when the three are having sex. When this novel stops abruptly too, the narrator suggests The Other Reader (Ludmilla) to visit the publisher for explanation, but she refuses. She doesn’t want to involve too deeply in book publishing; she want to keep being innocent reader and receive books as finished goods to be devoured. The whole publishing houses are made disordered by Ermes Marana’s (translator) series of fraud.
“Beneath every word there is nothingness.”
“The world of those who deal with books professionally is more and more crowded and tends to become one with the world of readers.”
Novel # 5 – Looks down in the gathering shadow – by Bertrand Vandervelde
Ruedi killed Jojo, helped by Bernadette, because Jojo cheated him financially and ruined him; feeling that he was entirely in Jojo’s power. Ruedi wants to have a clean break, to start again from zero by erasing his past traces, but he finds that the pasts cannot be erased; they will entangle one another. Bernadette turns out to be demanding when insisting Ruedi to satisfy her sexual need. His wife also has power over Ruedi.
While in the publishing office, the narrator witness how books are treated as raw material or spare parts ready to be dismantled or reassembled; another sense of authoritative power? Marana then offers a new novel from an author who couldn’t finish his novel, but Marana offered him a computer program which can ‘finish’ any unfinished books. The existence of ghost writers, who can imitate author’s style to complete half-written text as if written by the author, is also mentioned. Another interesting fact is that there are novels which are paid in advance by publishers, involving banks and financing, through contracts with certain products to ‘scatter’ their brands into the books.
Interesting quotes about Authors:
“Exists and don’t exist at the same time.
“An invisible point from which the books came, a void traveled by ghosts.”
I think this is a book about book publishing industry. From the novels, the sense of ‘power’ or ‘control’ emerges most of the stories. And our main character, the narrator and Ludmilla, are trapped in the publishing house’ catastrophe in their needs of reading a good book; they are helpless. So, it is, perhaps, about reader vs publisher in the book publishing industry. Let’s see….
What’s in the titles?
This book title is unique (as well as the novels’ inside); it’s written without capital letters on the beginning of each word (which is common in title writing). So, it seems as parts of an unfinished sentence. Particularly when I reached novel # 4, the title intrigued me, because it seems to be in correlation with the title of novel # 3. Then I thought, what if the titles are part of a long sentence? So, I put them together, in order, and this is what I got:
If on a winter’s night a traveler outside the town of Malbork leaning from the steep slope without fear of wind or vertigo, looks down in the gathering shadow…
Interesting, eh? Now I can’t wait to read the whole book to know if the titles are really part of a sentence (very long, indeed); and what sentence that would be.