The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
|The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
|Category: Literary Fiction
|Reviewer: George Terry
|Summary: Join Qfwfq as he narrates, from its very conception to its eventual dissipation, the course of the universe, the development of forms of life, and the tragedy of loneliness.
|Date: May 2009
|Publisher: Penguin Classics
When I sat down to read The Cosmicomics I was immediately struck by the cover, or more specifically, what was written in its top left corner. Having never come into contact with the Cosmicomics before, I was surprised to say the least when Salman Rushdie was featured on the sleeve, describing this novel as the most joyous reading experience of your life. Quite some accolade, I think you'll agree.
It doesn't take long to see why Salman Rushdie was so willing to lavish praise upon The Cosmicomics. In fact, within a few pages I was aware of the magnitude of Calvino's efforts. Were I to sum up for you just what it is that warrants such an instant impression upon the reader, I feel I could hardly do it justice, or at least, not within the confines of one single review.
The protagonist, through whose eyes we glimpse the birth of stars, planets, life forms, the formation of galaxies and the eventual dissipation of the universe itself, relates to us how it felt to nest in nebulae, to drift alone in the vast expanses of space, to ride planets like waves across the cosmos. And yet, impossibly, Calvino manages to retain a certain sensitivity; an unmistakably human sense of tragedy and loss as the comparatively minute dramas of the protagonist run parallel to the all pervasive cosmic narrative.
It is never made clear exactly what species the protagonist is; in fact, over the course of the novel, he is many. All we know of him is that his name is Qfwfq and he is older than you or I could begin to fathom. Although there are others like him, they are few and far between, in the most extreme sense of the saying. So, instead of seeking out his own kind, Qfwfq delights in the comparatively primitive life that flourishes on Earth. The tragedy of his situation is that despite his best efforts to integrate himself, existing outside of finite time and space as he does, he is utterly alone.
With two scientists for parents Calvino had an understandable interest in science, and in The Cosmicomics he contorts complex physics to his own playful ends; describing Qfwfq and an old friend playing marbles with hydrogen atoms or watching in disbelief as the first nebulae condensed into solid matter. It is written in such a way that the reader needs no prior education in such things, in fact, although interesting these details serve only as vessels for the greater point of the novel, that is, Qfwfq himself.
Were I to find fault in this book, and it pains me slightly to do so, I would have to say that the writing style is at times a little convoluted in comparison to modern prose. This is more a testament to the time at which it was written than Calvino's lack of style, though those among who have encountered and enjoyed writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Donald Barthelme will have little trouble following Calvino's complex trains of thought.
What more can be said of this novel? With both Gore Vidal and Salman Rushdie on its sleeve, both singing its praises, I feel that there is little more to add. It is not always a light read, or a simple one at that, but then, the best books never are.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Although completely different in style and content we think that you might also enjoy In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino is in the Top Ten Book Recommendations From Twitterers.
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