Apr 20, 09
Read in December, 2008
I don’t know how this book isn’t better known (though perhaps it is, and I am just a philistine) but it is a fantastically absurd tale of the everyday life of a wealthy Trieste “businessman,” Zeno Cosini, in the early 1900s. The story itself is actually about nothing. There is no real plot, just the daily happenings of Cosini’s life structured around a few seminal events.
Whether it’s promising each cigarette is his last (only to have another to rid himself of the stress of his promise to not have another one), his constant hypochondria, his off again/on again desire to learn or practice being a businessman, or his ramblings on life, Cosini never fails to disappoint.
Zeno’s adventures are reminiscent of the absurdity of Don Quixote or even Ignatius J. Reilly except they are much more subtle. Cosini lets ordinary life happen and then explains it absurdly, whereas characters like Quixote and Reilly impose their absurdity on everyday life. In a lot of ways Zeno is a precursor to Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm.
As good as this book is, it is not a quick read as there is no plot to quicken the pace and the pages are dense with nuggets of incongruous wisdom which can be missed if read too fast (quotes like: "Complete freedom consists of being able to do what you like, provided you also do something you like less.").
In all, this is a fantastic book by Italo Svevo that I will assume has been overlooked because it was written in Italian and thus has somehow fallen through the cracks, which in a weird way may be fitting.