24 February 2010

Italo Calvino, The Path to the Spiders’ Nests, 1947

Throughout his career Calvino had a very ambivalent relationship with this, his first novel, and even when not quite disowning it he was more than happy to point out its various faults and explain just how and why they came about. Written when he was twenty-four after Calvino had lived through some of the kinds of events he describes, and despite clearly trying not to be this is still a very naïve coming-of-age novel. Set in a town on the Ligurian coast at the tail end of the Second World War that is overrun with both the Germans and the Blackshirt fascist paramilitary, a young cobbler’s apprentice hangs out with adults in the local bar, playing their dangerous adult games and, after stealing a German soldier’s pistol, later plays at being a partisan revolutionary. It really doesn’t go any further than this (apart from the awkwardly polemical ninth chapter that really does stick out like a sore thumb) having been specifically plotted and themed to tick all the boxes of the recently formed Italian ‘neo-realist’ school, its aim seemed to be more to preach to the converted (it sold very well on first publication) and nail Calvino’s communist-leaning politics to the mast, rather than tell a good story. Disappointing, but clearly the best place to start when understanding the transformations of Calvino’s later career.  PY


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