If on a winter’s night you reread a novel you once loved

David Mitchell rereads Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

Re-reading a novel you loved is like revisiting a city where you loved: you do it in the company of your younger self. You may not get on with your younger self, or else the absence of what is missing colours your judgment. Despite my reservations, however, I wouldn’t want a word of If on a winter’s night a traveller to be different, and if Calvino’s ghost seeks me out after this, I’ll still get down on my knees and pay homage. Possibly it is Calvino’s very influence on his inheritors that lends this 1979 novel its slight hoariness.
My conclusions, for what they are worth, are: some books are best loved when young; the older me has more time for Calvino the fabulist (Our Ancestors), Calvino the short-story writer (Adam, One Afternoon) or Calvino the essayist (Six Memos for the Next Millennium) than for Calvino the Escher; and that however breathtakingly inventive a book is, it is only breathtakingly inventive once. But once is better than never.


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