The Nonexistent Knight (1959)
The Cloven Viscount (1952)
By Italo Calvino (1923-1985)
Finally, I finished a book that’s on my list. Now I know why this list built up on my shelf in the first place. Writers keep writing and publishers keep publishing and some books on my shelf just don’t hold my interest. (Sorry, Don Quixote, but once your story deviates from you as the central figure, it tires me.) After many sidetracks, I managed to pick a book of the shelf that’s on the list, and I stuck with it.
I’ve read Calvino before, first If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler (which a friend recommended and I liked so-so, but enough to try another), then Invisible Cities (which I loved far more).
These are two novellas (I’d call them) collected in one volume. The Nonexistent Knight features a crusading armor powered solely by the will that lives within it and the people affected by this will. Fun story.
Favorite quote (because I an relate to it and because it’s good):
One starts off writing with a certain zest, but a time comes when the pen merely grates in dusty ink, and not a drop of life flows, and all life is outside, outside the window, outside oneself, and it seems that never more can one escape into a page one is writing, open out another world, leap the gap. Maybe it’s better so. Maybe the time when one wrote with delight was neither a miracle nor grace but a sin, of idolatry, of pride.
The Cloven Viscount (does not rhyme with “discount” but you knew that) treats a character split in half by cannon fire, one half turning excessively bad, the other (initially thought lost, sorry to spoil a bit of it as much as the back cover spoils it) excessively good.
Neither story was as light as I had hoped, but both are inventive and playfully thought-provoking, so I consider them both winners.
Still, if you’ve never read Calvino, I’d recommend you start with Invisible Cities.