Well, a comedy of sorts—but more a tragicomedy of distrust and good intentions gone woefully wrong.
Rudolf, the main character, does not even appear in the novel, for he has recently committed suicide in Turin, where he had been a prominent professor at the university. His best friend, the narrator, is appointed literary executor. Rudolf had been an intellectual and a writer, and his truculent and unmannerly personality emerges as the narrator comes into contact with three women in Rudolf’s life. His wife Elsa, now lying in a coma as she dies of cancer, was a formidable intellectual in her own right (though Rudolf confessed that he found her stuff “unreadable”). We also meet Eva, something of a mystery woman, whose large cache of letters the narrator discovers among the 64 cartons of voluminous papers Rudolf left behind. Finally, there’s the cold and intimidating Marta, Rudolf’s colleague at the University of Turin and (perhaps) his lover. The narrator is charged with sorting through and making sense of Rudolf’s personal and literary legacy. What is particularly urgent is the need to discover whether Rudolf’s reputed last work, The Testament, a book that was supposed to revolutionize the novel as a mode of writing, was merely a figment of his febrile imagination. Amidst the sorting process the narrator uncovers sordid information he feels might besmirch the reputation of the redoubtable Rudolf, papers he wants either to suppress or destroy. Along the way he encounters contradictions—Rudolf’s hidden rooftop menagerie, for example, where Rudolf was able to indulge his lavish love of animals, stands in contradiction to his prickly relationships with human beings. By the time the narrator gets to the 64th carton, he discovers that he has unwittingly destroyed papers that would have upheld Rudolf’s formidable artistic reputation.
A bit intellectual and rarefied, much like Rudolf’s work is reputed to be.