Thanks again to Caroline for organizing Antonio Tabucchi week. Please visit herefor a comprehensive list of all participating blogs.
It's Getting Later All the Time by Antonio Tabucchi is a very innovative and different book. Not a traditional narrative at all, it is instead an epistolary novel consisting of a series of letters from men, written to their estranged and sometimes deceased lovers. This work was challenging for me. It is mostly written in a post – modernist style. Some, but not all, of the letters are extremely difficult to follow. Some jump from subject to subject in all sorts of cryptic directions somewhat randomly. Some make myriad and, at times, obscure and arcane references to art, history, culture and science at a breakneck speed. I was glad that I had a mobile device at hand so as to look up many of the references online that would otherwise have flown over my head. Other letters are relatively straightforward and easy to follow. All are poetic and beautifully written. Sometimes they are funny. At other times they are heartbreaking.
Throughout the novel multiple common themes recur, sometimes in a seemingly haphazard fashion. This book takes mental work! In several passages, Tabucchi describes memory and thought as being broken up into shards. Likewise, the ideas and motifs in this book are presented in pieces. The author begins to develop a bit of an idea and leaves it hanging as the prose scurries off in a new and unexpected direction. Often the idea will return in another letter, sometimes in a different “key”. There are recurring symbols. Goats, circles and angles are examples of imagery that reappear multiple times.
At times I was befuddled. As I alluded to above, I cannot imagine reading this book without the assistance of an Internet search engine. This electronic aid was indeed very helpful. The author’s postscript also provided very informative insights. It seems as if Tabucchi realized that this book was a tough nut to crack, and decided to provide a little help! Finally, healthy spurts of rereading passages after completing the book make me feel as if I had turned the tide in the battle to de- encrypt what Tabucchi is trying to say.
There are multiple themes here, some of which I believe that I have gone a ways towards deciphering, and others that I am still fuzzy about. One important set of ideas starts with an emphasis that there is not much to our physical selves other then conglomerations of blood and organs. For instance, when one of the letter writers imagines a scene involving a human sacrifice,
“the slab of stone illuminated by the revived goddess and toward the entrails that had appeared on the dolman. Without a doubt these were guts devoid of the human or animal envelope that once housed them. A fragile, whitish tube of cartridge that ended in a reddish bean, from which branched out other ducts laden with blood and lymphatic vessels. But these entrails led nowhere because the body was absent.”
This theme that demonstrates the lack of significance of our physical bodies is further developed into the idea that there is a lack of significance relating to actual action and experience. Instead, Tabucchi implies that it is imagination and memories, which are often false, and, above all, the words which make us real and are really important. Again and again, memories are often shown to be inaccurate, yet crucial, in the development as to who we are.
Imagination is similarly emphasized. The power and artistry of words is analyzed and celebrated over and over again. At one point, a letter writer describes in elaborate detail a trip that he and his girlfriend never actually took:
“This is why I remind you of the journey we didn’t make to Samarkand, because this was the one that was real and our and full and lived.”
The above is just one of multiple intellectual threads developed by Tabucchi.
If reading this book sounded like it was a little difficult, it was! However, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. This type of reading experience is my cup of tea. I love to try to dig deep, to interpret, and to work a bit on the book that I am occupied with. I take satisfaction in the fact that I was able to crack some of Tabucchi’s secrets. I am tempted to read this work again, right now, from cover to cover, as I suspect such an undertaking would reveal a world of new understanding.
To read this book I recommend three things: first, a strong desire and curiosity to delve into the author’s very creative mind; second, patience, as some rereading may be necessary; third, a reliable Internet connection! In addition to the intellectual challenge that Tabucchi presents, he is also a wonderful writer who shows mastery of many styles. His themes and philosophies, while difficult and dense, are the product of a great imagination and contain both wisdom and insight. I recommend this one for enthusiastic and determined readers!
The English version of this book was translated by Alastair McEwen.