A career-spanning story collection from Tabucchi (1943-2012; For Isabel: A Mandala, 2017, etc.) exploring the liminal spaces between dream and waking, fact and fiction.
All but one of the 22 stories here have appeared in earlier books, and taken together they make for a substantive overview of the obsessions that marked Tabucchi's work. “The Reversal Game” and “Night, Sea, or Distance,” both set in Portugal, evoke his admiration for Fernando Pessoa, particularly his interest in the slippery melancholy state of "saudade." “Clouds” and “The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico” are elliptical evocations of the subconscious; in the latter story, a monk’s vision of a trio of insectlike beings can be read as magical realism or a hallucination of a cloistered mind. “Cinema” is a noir satire about two movie actors who attempt to turn their roles as World War II resistance fighters into reality. “The phrase that follows this is false…” and “Little Gatsby” are arch metafictions that weave the author himself into the story. At once modern (fragmentary, interior rhetoric) and postmodern (satirical, suspect of narrative), Tabucchi possessed a lively and inimitable sensibility; “imagination gave him a reality so alive that it seemed more real than the reality he was living,” he writes of one character, a notion that guides many of these stories. Not all of these high-concept stories succeed; some are overly digressive, and Tabucchi has a habit of introducing a stray memory or reverie in a story the way a hack crime writer introduces a thug with a gun. But in magical stories like “Clouds” and “Letter from Casablanca,” he creates somber vignettes that are playful in structure and imagination. The latter is narrated by a man who discovers his capacity to impersonate a woman singer, a fulfillment of Tabucchi’s feeling that we can inhabit any environment, however foreign, if we pay close enough attention.
A fine tribute to a writer defined by his singular command of mood and mystery.