Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Finally Finished

It is with much relief that I finished Italo Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies. I was expecting a novel and got short stories. I am not much of a short story reader. I have to prepare myself for short stories, they take a different mindset for me than a novel or even a novella. The Castle and I did not get along very well. The book is made up of two smaller books, The Castle of Crossed Desitinies and The Tavern of Crossed Destinies. In each the premise is the same. A group of people in a castle or tavern find their voices are gone. Conveniently there is a deck of Tarot cards on the table and they use the deck to tell their stories. The cards are not read like in a Tarot reading, but are taken at face value. I had a difficult time following the stories, trying to match up the picture of the card in the book's margins with the cards in the story and then trying to follow the way they were laid out on the table. I didn't know what the point of all of it was or how the stories were related. I kept wondering if the castle was a metaphor for something, or what the reason was that they were unable to talk. At the end of the Castle section there is a picture of all the cards laid out and Calvino writes,

In fact, the task of deciphering the stories one by one has made me neglect until now the most salient peculiarity of our way of narrating, which is that each story runs into another story, and as one guest is advancing his strip, another, from the other end, advances in the opposite direction, because the stories told from left to right or from bottom to top can also be read from right to left and from top to bottom, and vice versa, bearing in mind that the same cards, presented in a different order, often change their meaning, and the same tarot is used at the same time by narrators who set forth from the four cardinal points.
.So basically all the stories are related because they share cards, though the cards might have a different meaning in each story. If I had known this up front, I might have had an easier time of it. Finally, at the end of the book is a Note and in the Note Calvino explains why he wrote the stories in the first place and what the stories are about. The central story of Castle is Orlando Furioso which may have made more sense if I had ever read it. In Tavernit is Shakespeare. I picked up on that and almost enjoyed it. I loved Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler and will try Calvino again. I can't help but feel though I somehow failed with this book, that Castle is better than I think it is. I had this same feeling with The Great Gatsby and read it three times over the course of ten years hoping to discover what was so great about it. After the third reading I decided that I was never going to like Gatsby no matter how many times I read it. I don't plan on reading Castle again though. I guess sometimes books are like people, no matter how hard you try to get along with them, occasionally you just can't.