“All books continue in the beyond…”

Having read Calvino’s novel, “If on a winter’s night a traveler” many years ago, I felt safely forewarned and therefore, forearmed for the seemingly endless beginnings of stories, which are presented like so many Russian nesting dolls; each story opening into the next: “If on a winter’s night a traveler” opens into “Outside the town of Malbork” which opens into “Leaning from a steep slope” and so on.

The series of unfinished stories in the book at once echoes and confirms the Cimmerian professor’s statement: “All books continue in the beyond…” (71). (An unfinished statement in itself.) They step off abruptly into an invisible and unseen end, which by definition, is never-ending.

The stories start and stop suddenly; their continuations or completions are texts themselves that are apparently lost. Consequently, the narratives lose themselves in the “beyond,” yet they could also be said to be disintegrating as well, creating as one of the texts states a: “sense of loss, the vertigo of dissolution” (37).

The uncertainty or “vertigo” is discomfiting. Like Calvino’s anonymous reader, my mind reads along and is “seeking a pattern, a route that must surely be there” (27). I propose that there is a “taut trajectory” to Calvino’s beginnings, even as the stories begin to turn in on themselves, and the writers and texts interlace and become even more confused by Chapter Six (27). My desire is to discover the meaning or the purpose of the construct and experience whatever Calvino was attempting to create or communicate.

So the text is a novel adventure and accurately reflects Ludmilla’s statement: “Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be…” (72). The unfinished beginnings move towards endings that are unknown, mysterious, and therefore they draw me.

Calvino’s book is also moving towards something, that at page 125, I still do not know the destination. But I like the ride and I like my expectations being disrupted because it adds to the adventure and makes the reading exciting – instead of rout and predictable. And in this way I am realizing the “dream of rediscovering a condition of natural reading, innocent, primitive…” (92). I am reading again, for the first time.

One thought on ““All books continue in the beyond…””

  1. Yes, indeed — the novel is all about interruption and unfinishedness, both structurally and thematically. The notion of stoppage or disruption is so prevalent, in fact, it’s worth looking at the few places where something—anything!—does come to fruition or completion. Where does that happen in the novel?

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