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MR. PALOMAR by William Weaver Kirkus Star


translated by William Weaver & by Italo Calvino

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1985
ISBN: 0156627809
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

The most philosophical of Calvino's works, a set of semi-comic meditations upon infinity undertaken by a nobody/Everyman named Mr. Palomar--who, as his name suggests, would like to be the clearest, adroitest, purest non-participatory observer. . .yet, since he's a man, not a telescope, can't quite pull it off. He's reminiscent of Jacques Tati's M. Hulot: at odds or at war or in love with the big in small, the small in big, the whole old figure/ground confusion. Some of the things he observes: how the "sword" of the sun's reflection on the ocean always stops exactly at a swimmer's eye; the possible meaning of birdcalls (humorously contrasted with Mr. and Mrs. Palomar's old-married-pair quasi-conversations); how turtles mate; the way birds must see the world below as all surface; the vagaries of the head overruling the eye (Palomar, on a topless beach, tries not to observe the naked breasts--then decides, on philosophical grounds, to observe them--to predictably outraged results). Each short non-adventure is another illustration of the beauty of the subjective, that which we nonetheless try to destroy or transcend. Calvino, maybe the subtlest of all living writers, picks up along the way various intellectual fashions (Marxism, deconstructionism) only to put them down again gently askew: a Foucault-ian visit to a butcher shop is a standout. Even if these satiric overtones aren't picked up, though, Palomar's humanity is always the chief hire--his and Calvino's splendid prose (expertly rendered by the redoubtable William Weaver). Here's the moon seen in the afternoon sky: ". . .like a transparent wafer, or a half-dissolved pastille. . .and you cannot be sure whether it is from its taut, uninterrupted surface that this round and whitish shape is being detached, its consistancy only a bit more solid than the clouds', or whether it is a corrosion of the basic tissue, a rift in the dome, a crevice that opens onto the void behind." Luminous, knowing, lovely literature.