Susan Wise Bauer shares that Calvino’s classic If on a winter’s night a traveler contains eleven beginnings. (WEM, pg. 110)
Looking at my copy’s table of contents, I count ten titled chapters. So how many beginnings are there? ten or eleven?
Should I count chapter ? That felt more like a prologue? Should I count chapter ? In twelve I have the beginning of the Reader and Ludmilla’s life together. That could be a beginning, but that same chapter has the conclusion of the story’s illusive novel. Chapter ? There the Reader goes to the book store and the story within a story (many stories) takes off. Ten beginnings? Eleven? Beginnings are just one of the confusing things about this novel.
Salman Rushdie called If on a winter’s night a traveler, “the most complicated book you… will ever read.”
It was complications that drove Christina, Jeannette, and me to do a different kind of wrap-up. Sure we met over food like always, but when it came time to discuss the wrap-up questions, we were stumped. How do you talk about point of view, setting, style, or character obstacles? There are stories within stories within stories!
Instead we latched on to this quote from the book:
“Do you believe that every story must have a beginning and an end? In ancient times a story could end only in two ways: having passed all the tests, the hero and the heroine married, or else they died. The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death.”
The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death. All stories? We decided to see about that. With WEM novel list in hand, we thought back over three year’s worth of reading and divided the books we’ve read into two categories: continuity of life and inevitability of death. True, some books ended with the hero and heroine married (Jane Eyre). In some books, they died (Anna Karenina). Sometimes they married and later died (Madame Bovary). Amazingly, we instantly agreed on the placement of about 97% of the titles. After brief debates, we were able to place the remaining 3%, giving us 100% agreement on our results.
Think back. Where would you put Don Quixote? The Scarlet Letter? The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? 1984? Consider where you’d place each of the WEM novels we’ve read so far. Start with Don Quixote and end with If on a winter’s night a traveler.
I’ll share the Classic Case of Madness results soon. Put some thought into placing the novels.
Remember…tt’s a matter of life and death.