When I picked up ‘If on a winter’s night a traveler,’ the postmodern classic by Italo Calvino, the motive was to dissect how a writer can pull off an entire novel in second person point-of-view (POV). For those blissful readers uninhibited by literary technicalities, second person POV is when the writer addresses the reader as ‘you’ and the story sucks the reader into it. The reader becomes a character in the story. It is a surreal feeling when the writer can make the reader run up and down a flight of stairs six times or fall in love with a serial killer or give birth to eight children. Literally! (pun intended!)
As a writer, I knew this was a tough feat for a flash fiction or a short story itself. So, when an entire novel is in second person POV, I had put it down on the to-be-read list of 2016. What followed next has to be explained from two different perspectives, as a writer and as a reader. As soon as I started reading, it was evident that I am the main character in the book and my quest is to read a book called ‘If on a winter’s night a traveler’. As a writer, I had to appreciate the clever structure behind the novel. Each chapter was divided into two parts. The first part was the one in second person POV and it was this part that dragged the reader into the search for the book he is reading. The second part of each chapter was the book found in the quest. However, each of these sections had only the opening chapter of a new book and the ending was never explained. When each story stopped without a satisfactory end, my mind raced and paced to know what came next. Sometimes, I just wanted to pick up a pen and complete each of those stories to soothe my agony. That was the power behind Calvino’s storytelling skills.
As a reader, the book sucked me in and enthralled me. I raced along, playing the part of the protagonist, and did all that the writer asked me, till somewhere around the middle of the book. That was when I realized Italo Calvino was playing a trick on me. He was going to present me an engrossing first chapter each time and then ditch me. Now, I understood why stories have a beginning, middle and end. It is the same reason why a meal needs a soup, main course and dessert. Even if the soup is excellent, just a meal of four different soups will not do. Still, I plodded along and completed the book, being the big sucker that I am for mind-blowing opening chapters.
Another thing that irked me was my failure to make it in the challenge. If I was the protagonist of the book, I wanted to succeed and it was a disappointment when I did not. However, I think that was just how Italo Calvino wanted me to feel. That was where his brilliance shined through. In spite of all this inner turmoil, as a writer, I want to read the book again just to analyze how to write such brilliant opening pages that can grab and gobble the reader.