A novel of a delightful eccentric on a search for truth, by the renowned author of Invisible Cities. In The New York Times Book Review, the poet Seamus Heaney praised Mr. Palomar as a series of "beautiful, nimble, solitary feats of imagination." Throughout these twenty-seven intricately structured chapters, the musings of the crusty Mr. Palomar consistently render the world sublime and ridiculous. Like the telescope for which he is named, Mr. Palomar is a natural observer. "It is only after you have come to know the surface of things," he believes, "that you can venture to seek what is underneath." Whether contemplating a fine cheese, a hungry gecko, or a topless sunbather, he tends to let his meditations stray from the present moment to the great beyond. And though he may fail as an objective spectator, he is the best of company. "Each brief chapter reads like an exploded haiku," wrote Time Out. A play on a world fragmented by our individual perceptions, this inventive and irresistible novel encapsulates the life's work of an artist of the highest order, "the greatest Italian writer of the twentieth century" (The Guardian).
The book is airy and heavy. It is humorous and depressing. It shows joy and the deepest despair. It gives answers which slip, like smoke, through the fingers.
It bears much reexamination and rereading. It is masterful.
The arrangement of the book corresponds to Palomar's classification attempts, being broken up into sections, sub-sections and sub-sub-sections, with each section having three sub-sections and each sub-section having three sub-sub-sections dealing with three different categories of experience. There is no real plot to speak of.
The result, for me, was that although some of the details were beautiful and the descriptions insightful, it felt like notes for a book rather than a book itself. Each sub-section is just two or three pages, and the book itself is little over 100 pages, so no idea seems to get fully developed. You end up with a collection of fragments, each one often quite clever and even entertaining, but not seeming to add up to any kind of meaningful whole.
This book is quite short, which will be a dissappointment to Calvino fans, yet they may well expect it. This is an amusing and enjoyable read, though I expect that it would not appeal to everyone.
The book has no story as such at all, comprising a series of reflections. That rules it out for all of those readers who like their fiction to be plot-driven. And in the hands of another writer, this might be a recipe for tedium. Calvino, of course, wasn't just another writer. In William Weaver's translation, the prose is beautifully spare and exact. The melancholic, philosopher-fool Palomar is a wonderful invention. His meditations upon anything from waves to a gecko to a Parisian cheese shop are a joy, at once comic and profound. 'Mr Palomar' reminds me of Bodil Malmstem's 'The Price of Water in Finistère'. It is a Tardis of a book - outwardly slight and yet, between its covers, gaining in depth and weight.
Perhaps Mr Palomar is a book to read having already read some of Calvino's other works but it is worth the read for it is a reflective book on life itself.