Wednesday 2 June 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Rosa Fernandez: "If on a winter's night a traveller," by Italo Calvino

I first read If on a winter’s night a traveller in the summer break between the second and third years of my English degree as a way of getting ahead on my reading list. It was a hot summer and I curled up in a sunny window for hours while I devoured this absolute gem of magic realism. It was the first book I had ever read to be written in the second person. It completely absorbs the reader in the act of reading, narrating itself as page after page of starts of novels make up a puzzle only solved by reading on. Attention is drawn to the act of reading, and writing, and to all the things that we expect novels to do. Even the ending is a remark on what we ‘expect’ from a story, and it helps that there are also plenty of jokes.

This novel is like no other book I had read before or since and completely blew apart my idea of what a novel could do. It also, in a very real way, actually changed my life a few years later. At a job interview at a magazine, I was asked a final question by one of my two interviewers: who is your hero? I took a minute and answered that it was Italo Calvino, because he was responsible for this enigmatic novel. I left after the interview and they called me later to tell me the job was mine. Only a month in and the man who had asked me the question told me that it was that answer that got me the job, because most people say cliched things like ‘my mum’ or ‘my dad’. I should have said ‘my mum,’ of course, but then she would probably have said ‘Dickens.’

About the reviewer

Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats. 

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