Book Review – IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELLER by Italo Calvino

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller Synopsis

If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino

You go into a bookshop and buy If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. You like it. But alas there is a printer’s error in your copy. You take it back to the shop and get a replacement. But the replacement seems to be a totally different story. You try to track down the original book you were reading but end up with a different narrative again. This remarkable novel leads you through many different books including a detective adventure, a romance, a satire, an erotic story, a diary and a quest. But the real hero is you, the reader. (Amazon)

Translated from the original Italian by William Weaver


Wow – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino really is a book only for true book lovers, in multiple respects.

The story itself is an ode to books and the people that love them.

It is about the motivations of both reader and writer.

It is about the writing process and the intangible relationship between a writer and their reader; the unspoken contract between them.

It is about the power of a writer and the use of that power for good and evil.

It is about freedom of speech, conspiracy and deception.

It is about life imitating art, or is it art imitating life?

Confused yet? If not yet, you will be when you start reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. But that’s both the beauty of this novel and why I’d only recommend it to those who love literature and unravelling the boundless skeins of meaning that can be found in it.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is anything but a light read. This is the first title I have read from Italo Calvino so I cannot say whether all his works require considerable intellectual investment but this one indeed requires ‘deep reading‘. For those who invest the time and effort the payoff is substantial – there are just so many clever ideas borne out in this novel to admire. Oh, and it is extremely funny in places too.

But, it is perhaps that which makes this title so remarkable is also a point of weakness. Although thoroughly immersed right to the very last word, at times I did feel a sense of fatigue at all the cleverness packed into this one relatively short novel. You know how when you first arrive in a foreign country you take photos of almost every new thing you see but then after a while the novelty wears off, or you just get sick of taking out your camera?

I highly recommend If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino for lovers of literature – if only for the experience – but I caution only embarking on this journey when you have the time and energy to devote to it. This book will accept nothing less than your undivided attention.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Have you read If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller? Do you want to?

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BOOK DETAILS: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino ( Amazon | Booktopia | Kobobooks | Indiebound )

Genre: Literature, Drama, Romance, Adventure, Mystery

Author Information: Italo Calvino (15 October 1923 – 19 September 1985) was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952–1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter’s night a traveller (1979). Lionised in Britain and the United States, he was the most-translated contemporary Italian writer at the time of his death, and a noted contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Other reviews of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller: Words and Peace; PhiloBiblos; New York Times; Reading Matters; These Words; Shelf Love

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11 Comments on "Book Review – IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELLER by Italo Calvino"


[…] Despite having been first published 50 years ago, Farabeuf is distinctly ‘modern‘ from a literary standpoint. Elizondo requires participation from his audience – the reader is directly engaged and becomes as much a part of the story as that described on the page. The only parallel in reader engagement for me to date is Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller. […]

July 21, 2013

Thanks for bringing this fascinating looking novel to my attention. I am becoming a fan of what I’m terming ‘the slow book’ – book’s that haven’t been written in a mad rush and are more considered and have more depth. I’m putting this on the library list. If I like it enough I might buy a copy, because it sounds like a book that should be owned, not borrowed.

July 20, 2013

This has been on my TBR for a dog’s age. Great review.


Ow this looks very interesting. Great review… another book for my shelves.


I love Calvino’s writing, as you saw in my own review. I also read Invisible Cities. great too, but less bold literary speaking. thanks for your review!

July 17, 2013

I had this out from the library last year, but sadly I didn’t get around to it, and I wasn’t able to extend the loan. One I’m very keen to read…