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Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1974) by Italo Calvino

The Castle of Crossed Destinies contains illustrations in the margins of various cards from the Marseilles Tarot deck,
Book Review
The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1974)
by Italo Calvino

  Italo Calvino had multiple phases in his career as a novelist.  His early work, represented by The Path to the Nest of Spiders, clearly echoes the fiction of Ernest Hemingway and the nascent Italian neo-realist movement.   In the mid 1960's, Calvino hooked up with Raymond Queneau and the Oulipo movement:  A group of writers concerned with experimental "restricted writing" techniques, where the authors had to adhere to one or more rules ("Don't use any "e's" in your book" is an example.)

   The Castle of Crossed Destinies features of a group of travelers who are all at an inn, which may be a deserted castle.  For unexplained reasons none of them can talk, and they are forced to rely on a pack of tarot cards to tell their respective stories.   The narrator sits at the table with the other guests, and the text takes the form of small illustrations of the cards being displayed by the inn guests, with the interpretations of the cards being the main body of text.

  After hearing the stories from the other guests, the narrator tells his own story, and then there is a portion where Calvino shows all the cards simultaneously and explains an incredibly complicated schematic where all the cards were being shown at the same time, not one at a time as the stories occur in the first portion of the book.  It's a lot to grok in one hundred and thirteen pages.  I could have used a supplementary text to explain in more detail.  Understanding The Castle of Crossed Destinies in the context of the artificial restrictions of Oulipo makes sense, since it is a novel where none of the characters can talk.

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