Marcovaldo

Marcovaldo - Italo Calvino, William Weaver Like Borges, Calvino's metier was the short form - short stories and novellas. Even his "novels" - 'If on a Winter's Night a Traveller', 'The Castle of Crossed Destinies' 'Invisible Cities' - are short story collections underneath the skin. This is no exception. It falls into that category of collected tales relating incidents from the daily lives of their central character - 'Mr Palomar', 'Cosmicomics', arguably - that are at once mundane and fantastic.

Marcovaldo is from peasant stock, transplanted to the industrial city - I'm guessing Turin - there to live in poverty with his young family in half-basements and garrets and to work in a packing factory. And herein lies the tension, as the country boy chases after those echoes of his former life to be found in the metropolis. There are no weak tales among the twenty collected here but I had favourites, inevitably. Like many of these tales, 'A Journey with the Cows' is a mini-picaresque with a powerful moral. 'The Wrong Stop' follows a similar path, featuring a heartbreaking and beautiful opening paragraph and a fantastical ending. They're tales of the unexpected in which the unexpected turns out to be not macabre but comic and surreal.

Starting with 1952's 'The Cloven Count' and ending with 1983's 'Mr Palomar', I can't think of a more outstanding body of work in modern literature. The human insights, the humour, the sumptuous descriptions, the stylistic innovations and enormous imaginative power - Calvino's oeuvre is genuinely inspirational to both the adventurous reader and the writer.