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Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo
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May 27, 2010

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Read in May, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Zeno’s Conscience is a peculiar book but a well-written good read. Zeno’s is funny, introspective and thoughtful.

The novel is written as a confessional memoir or autobiography of “Zeno” who was urged to write the text as part of his psychotherapy. However, there is a brief note at the start of the book, written by the psychoanalyst, disclosing that the memoir is being published and made public as revenge against Zeno, his patient, for discontinuing therapy. I think this is supposed to give veracity to the story because as we discover, Zeno is not all that honest of a man. However, if we thought he was writing the text for himself only, we may expect to believe that perhaps he would have been more honest.

He tells his story not chronologically but under varied topics including his smoking habit, the courtship (kind of) of his wife, his mistress, his work life and then the onset of WW1. Zeno has a wicked sense of humor which makes the story compelling. He also is insecure, a little deceitful towards both others and himself. He is vain, can be consumed with jealousy and he can be embarrassing. As he tells his story, we realize that we are getting what may be his honest view of events but nonetheless, we are acutely aware that his view point is distorted. He justifies mean actions, he is weak-willed, he has excuses for mistakes, assigns blame to others quickly etc.

Written in 1923, there also seems to be a lot of implied criticism of Freud. He scoffs at ideas such as Oedipal Complex.

In the end, this seems to be a book which is simply about the way humans can very much be. Zeno isn’t a particularly outstanding person by any measure and his faults and mistakes likely ring true for all of us.

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Bobby One of my all time favorites! I knew it as "Confessions of Zeno". I'll have to try this new translation.

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