The Ideal Reader

I have, at long last, finished reading If on a winter’s night a traveler. It is a book that I at first enjoyed: it was creative, employing the use of the second person, and had a mystery of the missing novel. However, by the third or fourth interrupted novel, I as the Actual Reader was already expecting this to happen. I began to treat each new novel incipit as a short story, or rather, not investing too much in the story because I knew that the chapter would cut off at its most climatic moment. The Character of the Reader, however, the ‘You’ character, continued to invest himself, to follow the mystery. It was not until the seventh or eighth interrupted novel that the conspiracy theory began to take off—so, if I was already expecting the stories to be interrupted at the third occurrence, you can imagine my annoyance that it took four more repetitions until the alternate storyline began to pick up.

While at first creative, the use of the second person for the narrator failed with the second chapter. In the first chapter, the Character of the Reader is gender-less; by the second time you see him, he has become clearly male and it becomes immediately apparent that he has a sexual attraction to Ludmilla, the Other Reader. As first or third person this character might have worked, but as second person it did not. Instead, Calvino was imposing upon the Actual Reader a persona that the Actual Reader does not have.

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