Friday, April 21, 1995

Mr. Palomar

by Italo Calvino
translated by William Weaver

I tried to read this a couple of years before, and got through a considerable amount, but stopped. It's a quite hermetic, cryptic work. Anyway, I tried again and this time I plowed all the way through. A definitely different work, it's extremely well-written (and translated into a smooth, perfect English admirably by the great William Weaver), and a great intellectual exercise into questions on the relation of self to the mind, self to the world, language and symbols. The last chapter, on "learning to be dead," is particularly intriguing in this way. Palomar's thoughts are, now and then but not often, comic, often at his expense.

I think the book could have used more of this deprecatory angle for comic relief from trio after trio of analysis – to have more of a character development, since there is no plot. When Palomar dies at the end, it is funny, true, but should anyone care? If not, why did it happen? I suppose my main impression of the book is, in fact, like something Palomar would think: I didn't get that much out of it except respect for Calvino's writing skills, but – since it is the work of such a gifted writer and has garnered such praise – I feel I must be missing something.

four stars

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