What, in your opinion, is the intended effect of Palomar on the reader? And what effect does the book actually achieve?

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What, in your opinion, is the intended effect of Palomar on the reader? And what effect does the book actually achieve?

It is difficult to differentiate between a book’s intended effect and its actual effect, especially when dealing with an author as well known and as renowned as Calvino, because it is understandable to agree that the effect he intended was the same as the effect he achieved. However, in order to examine Calvino’s aims properly it is important to realise his personal views on Palomar. It is said that Palomar is in part an autobiographical novel. Palomar is not Calvino, but Palomar’s way of thinking, his dilemmas and confusion about his own life philosophy mirror the way that Calvino, to an extent, led his own life.

Calvino intended to make Palomar a laughable character. At first, we might think that Palomar’s way of dealing with life is an admirable one – questioning everything and trying to come up with his own philosophy rather than following the masses and ignoring the possiblity of “knowledge”. One of the best examples of this is when Palomar is in the cheese shop. He deliberates obsessively over which type of cheese he will have, until he is brought back to the real simplicity of the situation by the cheese shop owner and he thinks “L’ordinazione elaborata e ghiotta che aveva intenzione di fare gli sfugge dalla memoria; balbetta; ripiega sul più ovvio, sul più banale, sul più publicizzato, come se gli automatismi della civiltà di massa non aspettassero che quel suo momento d’incertezza per riafferrarlo in loro balìa.” To an extent, Palomar’s quest for knowledge is a good thing and Calvino intended to put this across. Ironically, however, it is this quest for knowledge which also makes Palomar a laughable, unenviable character because he simply tries too hard to know. The cheeses in the shop could no doubt be interesting if Palomar’s interest in them had not impeded his actual choosing of one. His over-analysis of this situation to try to clarify it, and in every other situation he finds himself in, has the opposite effect and eventually makes things unclear and unmanageable for Palomar. There is a line between useful questioning of things and over-questioning of things to blow them out of proportion. Palomar crosses this line every time, which is what makes the book humourous.

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Another example of this type of humour is in the chapter ‘Il seno nudo’, where Palomar deliberates whether to look at the woman sunbathing topless on the beach or not, and if so, how to approach the situation – whether to walk past as if she was not there, or deliberately to look, or not too look at all. There are two ironically humourous sides to this story. The first is that, in the end, Palomar comes to the conclusion that he should simply walk past her and look, which is what he might have done in the first ...

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