Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Mr. Palomar is a novel about meaning. As the two-hundred-inch telescope on Southern California’s Mount Palomar pulls in the light from distant galaxies, so the novel pulls the reader into its text as an inescapable link in the infinite chain of observers observing observers. In the very act of reading the novel the reader must perpetuate Mr. Palomar’s attempt to draw meaning from his observations, to make connections between things, or events, or chapters. Though Calvino provides a structuring concept for the twenty-seven meditations, he never reveals the significance behind the triple triadic arrangement. Is it a Trinity of Trinities, an intimation of something godlike? Or is the author having his little joke with readers who find that they, too, cannot avoid interpretation?

Calvino’s prose, translated from the Italian by William Weaver, is deceptively forthright. Each short meditation is well crafted, seemingly translucent. Yet the reader comes to realize that any understanding of Mr. Palomar has come not through the detail of the text but through the connection and interpretation that the novel forces the reader to supply, with the help of Calvino, the fellow observer. The reader is wooed into believing that such connections must be found for the story to have the significance “intended” by the author, and with that, the trap is sprung. The reader becomes Mr. Palomar’s accomplice.

The meditations themselves are quietly...

(The entire section is 547 words.)