This morning I'm proud to announce that AJ flew into the arms of his new teacher like a sailor coming home. Phew!
The Path to the Spiders' Nests was his first novel, written in late 1946, and drawing heavily on his experiences during the second world war. Unlike so much of Calvino's later work, it's a 'realist' novel (you have to be careful with labels around Calvino, hence the inverted commas) that centres around a young boy, Pin, experiencing both the turmoil of the war outside and the turmoil of burgeoning adolescence inside. Pin is masterfully conjured from the backstreets of Liguria, fatherless, penniless, and with that nameless urge to identify, understand and above all grasp the symbols of adult power that we must surely all remember from our own lives.
It's a great read, almost a compulsive read. But it doesn't characterise the later work. What to me is perhaps more interesting is Calvino's own preface to the 1964 edition (printed in the Vintage Books 1998 paperback), where he discusses the literary atmosphere in which it was written, and how the book came out of his own experiences of the partisan life. He says of it :
"This is the first novel I wrote, almost my very first piece of writing. What can I say about it today? I will say this : it would be better never to have written your first novel. Before you write your first book, you possess that freedom to begin writing that can be used only once in your life. The first book already defines you while you are in fact still far from being defined."Looking at his later work, it's clear that Calvino did not, actually, allow his writing to be defined by this first novel. If you want my advice (anybody? anybody?), forget it's Calvino and read it for pleasure. For pleasure it is. And if you're looking for a more characteristic Calvino experience, check out, perhaps, Invisible Cities