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Review: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

April 21, 2009

Calvino’s masterpiece opens with a scene that’s reassuringly commonplace: apparently. Indeed, it’s taking place now. A reader goes into a bookshop to buy a book: not any book, but the latest Calvino, the book you are holding in your hands. Or is it? Are you the reader? Is this the book? Beware. All assumptions are dangerous on this most bewitching switch-back ride to the heart of storytelling.

You browse the internet, looking for some kind of enjoyment from the billions of websites, all of them trying, desperately, to grab your illusive attention. You open up your bookmarks, and, without knowing quite why, you click on The Damned Conjuror. The page loads and you are instantly transported to a world full of wonder and excitement. You see at the top of the page a new post. You realise this is the new post of The Damned Conjuror. You begin to read.

You get to the end of the first paragraph. You come to a startling conclusion, that this post has nothing to do with If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, in fact, it is about an entirely different novel. You feel disillusioned; you wanted to read the review, as you’ve always loved metafiction. You love it whenever an author bridges the gap, brings light between fictional world and the real world. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is a novel that revels in this analysis of the author authority, the way in which fiction operates and how a reader reads.

You go and click the 2009 Books link and scroll down through the list of books read this year. You see that instead of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, there is a title of another book. You are confused by this turn of events. You look for an e-mail address so you can express your shock and outrage at this terrible injustice.

You e-mail The Damned Conjuror and you write an impassioned message:

Greetings, I’m a regular visitor at your blog but today I had what could only be classed as a slight against my character. You clearly marked a post that said Review: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. This was, sadly, not at all the truth. I wish you would not toy with your readers like this.

Sincerely, a disgruntled reader.

You wait, twiddling your thumbs, constantly checking and re-checking your inbox when you see those two words: new message. You click it and you begin to read the reply:

Dear, disgruntled reader

I am deeply saddened that this has happened. You have my deepest apologies. The problem was that I had accidentally wrote the wrong title. I did not realise until you sent your e-mail to me.

This was no use; you still don’t know what he thought of the book. Where is the review? You ponder, waiting for some sign of understanding. You wait and wait and you become more and more impatient.

You are still waiting…

  • I very much enjoyed this novel, it was suitably humorous, mysterious and just the right amount of annoyance. I write that because I really wanted to read the proper novel, and yes, I do realise that is not the point and doesn’t make any sense. It had very astute observations, especially regarding how we buy and read books. While, perhaps, it could be deemed confusing, and a trifle complex for some, it is, at its heart, a comic tale

Questions: What are your thoughts on metafiction? Do you enjoy whenever an author breaks the fourth-wall, so to speak. Is this a good thing, what does it bring to the story? When is it right to do it and when is it wrong?

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