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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

CALVINO'S LAST WORD Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, translated by William Weaver (Secker & Warburg) £8.50; (Picador) £2.95 pb.

The death of Italo Calvino in September 1985 took from us one of the most accomplished and mischievous of contemporary literary craftsmen. The author of the early neo-realist novel The Path to the Nest of Spiders had later mapped out a domain all his own, in a territory where the literature of the fantastic overlaps with what one might term ironic metafiction. We owe Calvino some splendidly playful modern classics: the droll fantasias of Our Ancestors, the elegant quasi-scientific parables of Cosmicomics and Time and the Hunter, the poetic and perversely elaborate fictive networks of Invisible Cities and The Castle of Crossed Destinies, and the bewildering, exasperating, multi-layered narrative of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. Such are the accidents of time that the last book Calvino published should have been devoted to the 'career' of a single male character: it seems inevitable we should read Mr Palomar as Calvino's last word, a kind of teasing self-portrait and farewell.

Calvino's valedictory hero is an autodidact who loves to dip into encyclopedias or to linger voyeuristically in front of the cages at the zoo, pondering the lesson of things. He is a solitary, quietly pedantic individual all but unaware of his wife and young daughter; he asks nothing more than to be left alone in the world with his thoughts. The book represents a carefully constructed compendium of twenty-seven chapters (the three parts each consist of three groups of three chapters apiece), each of which summarizes a ...


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