I wake up early in the morning and begin reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo
Calvino.   It’s on my list – no idea why.   (I’m ploughing through, on my list from several years ago, a whole tranche of books on essays on English literature, so it is possible it was suggested as an example of a type of

So, the Calvino.   It’s a tease.  So far it’s about the process of reading a novel, and our expectations are continually dashed.    It’s as if the author stood behind you, continually looking over your shoulder and interrupting.    It is amusing, clever, different.   I arrive at page 34, however and now I am becoming irritated.    I am famously (or notoriously depending on where you stand) fast to a decision, and readily  bored, and I find abandoning things very easy.    John (and my friend Anne) want their money’s worth;   they can see things through to the bitter end;  and I can see the virtue of that viewpoint too, so I have quite often sat through things with them that left to my own devices I would have left after 15 minutes.    (They rarely do improve, but at least if you stay, you know you gave them every chance.)

We once went to a summer production of the Tempest in a nearby garden, Anne, Carolyn, Nan on a visit
from Scotland and most of our spouses.   I read the production notes, and announced, Let’s go now.   Of course I was over-ruled, and we had an enjoyable evening together, and saw the play.   The staging was very good; the acting was quite acceptable; the costumes were wonderful – but the production failed, because the director (in my opinion) had no idea at all what the play was actually about.

Anyway, I leave the Calvino to do other things and return to it later but it is no use.   Once you arrive at that state where the unspoken collaboration between writer and reader has dissolved, then the novel
turns, as in fairy stories, to ashes in your hands.    That suspension of disbelief, so essential for enjoyment of a novel, has been lost.    This author is extremely intelligent and erudite and he can present his material in any disguise he chooses.      He interrupts himself; he leads us up blind alleys;  he loses us in city badlands and leaves us with neither money nor a map.   He plays a game of cat and mouse.   But of course
this is a game only the author can win, since he is writing the drama.   As I proceed, I come to dislike him, and I do not wish to play the only role allocated to the reader:  the manipulated object.

After about 60 pages I begin to ‘skiff’.     To skiff means to row across a body of water in a small boat, so I don’t know quite why I misuse this word – perhaps there is the suggestion of just slipping along on the
surface of things, for I mean I turn the pages of the book, looking to see if anything jumps out and stops me in my progression through the pages; when I get to the end, I read the last page.      It is as I suspected – there is no story.     I wonder if this creation – rather like the froth on a coffee, but without the coffee – was easier to produce than an actual novel.

To add insult to injury, I find a few comments have been pencilled in on the final pages.   I loathe any markings on a book.   These are difficult to read.   They don’t make sense as they stand, nor can
I find any meaningful connection between the notes and the text.    When I find myself squinting at the page to determine whether the notes are actually an authorial device, I think Paranoia alert!   This book isn’t good for the reader – open at your peril.   Or actually, don’t.   It’s not worth the bother.

This author is too clever for me.

PS   When I consult the oracle (ie the internet) this is a famous ‘post modernist’ puzzle.    Sting
named one of his albums after it, which places it just about where I figured it should go.

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.


  1. Carolyn Hulatt says:

    In my humble opinion, life is too short to wearily plough on with anything, reading or otherwise, which is tedious. To the near shock of others, I have readily abandoned books for such good reason and feel no shame at the waste, or cost of it. After all, reading twaddle, clever or not, is irksome and not something I wish to peruse or pursue. So, all you goodly readers, suspend your disbelief as to the folly of this course of action and turf your pot boilers in to the bin!

    • adhocannie says:

      It appears I can’t speall ‘disbelief’… I entirely agree. In my youth I took pride in finishing any book. Now, if it’s tedious, I just think, life’s too short.

      It’s like when you used to be sitted beside a boring, tedious, charmless man at dinner (not in any of your houses, dear friends, of course), I used to consider it a challenge to exert myself to entertain and charm him. It generally worked with the result that he made a beeline for me at any subsequent social gathering, and then I was stuck with tedious, boring, charmless man AGAIN. So now, if dinner companion doesn’t make some effort for me, I just think, life’s too short, why bother, why cast pearls before swine, and eat my dinner in peaceful silence.

      I think the most memorable encounter of this nature I had was with the Sanitary Inspector for some Scottish county, whose main purpose in attending seemed to be to consume as much free food and wine as possible, but flared briefly into enthusiasm, over the disposal of sewage about which it emerged he could talk eloquently and enthusiastically for a surprisingly long time. Too much information…

  2. Moira McNair says:

    There are too many inviting books waiting to be read to waste time on tedious tomes. I totally agree – as soon as you start thinking about what to cook for dinner whilst staring at the page, toss the boring thing away.

  3. Elisabeth Armstrong says:

    Interesting blog thanks!

    Unfortunately as a lawyer you have to be able to skim read huge documents but also somehow pick up the key details as well… A wood AND trees situation – not easy especially when the subject matter is even more dull than you describe here!

    What other ‘post-modernist puzzles’ are there I wonder? Does a Rubik’s Cube count?!

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