Italo Calvino is an author known for unconventional narrative techniques. In Mr. Palomar, instead of telling a story, he offers the reader glimpses of the life and thoughts of one Mr. Palomar as he moves between country and city (Rome) and among civilizations (Paris; Kyoto, Japan; Tula, Mexico). Palomar is a thinker and an observer. The fact that his name is the same as that of a famous observatory underscores Calvino’s interest in the influence that twentieth century technology has had on man’s ways of thinking. A reflector of his times, Mr. Palomar reveals a tendency to interpret what occurs naturally in the universe in terms of an artificially imposed order tied to modern technology. Thus, a giraffe’s neck is seen as the arm of a crane, and the white plates on an iguana are likened to hearing aids.
Mr. Palomar observes, describes, questions, and analyzes all that meets his gaze. He considers everything from objects to ways of thinking and states of being, from the animals in the zoo to his personal relationship with the cosmos. The result is a delightful work that engages the reader above all on the level of language. At times, the narration seems to escape control as it pauses to savor a particular description; similes and metaphors abound.
At a more serious level, the reader is invited to contemplate philosophical issues and to evaluate the questionable value of certain of civilization’s “contributions.” Finally, the reader must ponder the value of meditation, for underlying this eccentric novel is Calvino’s contention that man has become too involved in analyzing life to live it.
Adler, Sara Maria. Calvino: The Writer as Fablemaker, 1979.
Andrews, Richard. “Italo Calvino,” in Writers and Society in Contemporary Italy: A Collection of Essays, 1984. Edited by Michael Caesar and Peter Hainsworth.
Calvino, Italo. The Uses of Literature, 1986.
Carter, Albert Howard. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy, 1987.