"If on a winter's night a traveler" is a novel, of sorts, by Italo Calvino, one of the top two Italian post-modernist writers. It was published in Italian in 1979 and in English in 1981.
The book starts out describing how "the reader" has purchased the book and is taking it home to read. After seven pages of that, you then begin reading "the novel", an amorphous spy story set in an undisclosed time and space. Only the "you" that is reading this novel is not the "you that is reading this novel" that the novel keeps on talking about, as you find out in the second intermission, where it turns out you got the wrong book and have to go back to the bookstore. But "you" are still reading the "wrong novel", and "you" begin to meet an ever expanding cast of characters and caricatures as you track down the book you are looking for. Translations, appropriations, mistranslations, misappropriations, satire and pastiche blend together as the "reader" goes on a journey around the world to find the novel they are looking for.
Does any of that make any sense? As outlandish and as gimmicky as this might sound, the book has such a light prose style and works in so many little parodies and zingers that it manages to roll along quite smoothly. Of course, there is always a question if a meal that goes down smoothly is filling. Another writer wrote of metatextuality that at a certain point it
WILL NULLIFY THE BASIC ABILITY OF INTELLIGENT BEINGS IN ALL REAL AND HYPOTHETICAL PLANES OF EXISTENCE TO GIVE A SHIT.
. In other words, when we are shown that these characters are just constructs made up by the author who makes reference to their fictional roots, why does the reader care? If the characters are caricature, and the plot is a self-referencing gimmick, where does the reader get the interest
, the affection
, to treat it seriously? Perhaps such an interest is not required, but it does remain an achilles heel
in post-modernistic works, until perhaps the advent