Having enjoyed so much my re-read of If on a winter’s night a traveller, I felt drawn to read another Calvino and decided that I’d like to spend some time with Mr. Palomar. This slim volume was published in translation in 1985, around the time of Calvino’s untimely death, and I probably haven’t read it since so I was interested to see what my reactions would be.

Wikipedia has this to say about the book:

Mr. Palomar is a 1983 novel by the Italian writer Italo Calvino. Its original Italian title is Palomar. In an interview with Gregory Lucente, Calvino stated that he began writing Mr. Palomar in 1975, making it a predecessor to earlier published works such as If on a winter’s night a traveler. Mr. Palomar was published in an English translation by William Weaver in 1985. In 27 short chapters, arranged in a 3 × 3 × 3 pattern, the title character makes philosophical observations about the world around him. Calvino shows us a man on a quest to quantify complex phenomena in a search for fundamental truths on the nature of being.

The novel was original published with the title of just Palomar (the Mr. being added to the translation) and the name of the slightly bumbling protagonist is significant. Palomar is a Spanish word meaning dovecote or loft, and is also the name of a famous observatory in San Diego, known for its astronomical research. The book consists of a series of short pieces in which Mr. Palomar observes the world around him, the heavens above him, the creatures he co-exists with and considers the meaning of all. Palomar is the ultimate observer, trying to grasp a moment of life and nature and pin it down – but finding out that they are both rather messy and intangible and can’t be controlled so easily by scientific theories.

If this sounds a little po-faced, it isn’t. The pieces are beautifully written and very funny in places – Palomar becomes so tangled in his various contemplations that he ends up looking very silly sometimes. His short-sightedness is probably significant as it adds comic moments and also is something of a metaphor for Palomar’s outlook – while looking for the minutiae of life he often misses the bigger picture. It’s hard not to identify Palomar with his author, as there are superficial similarities – Palomar has a wife and child, an apartment in Rome overlooking the city, and an unspecific job which he can do sitting at home (so could therefore be a writer). But Calvino was a very private man so we can only speculate how much of himself he put into this work.

But the pieces are very thought-provoking, very poetic and profound and enjoyable reading. I can recall being very, very moved by the end due to the context in which I first read this book, and I was moved again on revisiting it. Calvino is a wonderful writer, a joy to read, and I’d highly recommend his works to anyone who loves reading!