“If on a winter’s night a traveller” by Italo Calvino

Unique (in my limited experience). A contorted and jerky tale which successfully breaks down the ‘fourth wall’: the protagonist is “you”, “the Reader”, who begins by beginning reading “If on a winter’s night a traveller” by Italo Calvino, and ends by saying he’s just finishing “If on a winter’s night a traveller” by Italo Calvino. Clever.

The basic structure is to alternate named chapters, each one the beginning of a different novel you are reading, with numbered chapters which describe your frustration that you are never able to get beyond the first chapter of these novels, because of things like printing errors. But it gets more complicated than that.

Often surreal, the novel reminded me in many ways of Alice Through the Looking Glass: the way stories start and end abruptly, the surreal elements (including a whole named chapter on mirrors), and the fact that the main subordinate characters are a pair of twins…

The whole thing, looking at theory now, is “about” “reading”, with all those inverted commas imply. A bit up itself, but lightly done and never over-serious. It’s a tad over-literary though, in pretending that “reading” is somehow special, and not just a special case of all our experience of the world: if the “reader” “creates” “meaning” from a “text”, and the “author” disappears like a Cheshire Cat, that’s how we find meaning when we’re not reading, as well as when we are.

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