Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo

I have to confess to some disappointment with this book. I was very keen to read it after an enjoyable visit to Trieste, where Svevo lived and where he is revered. He was a friend and supporter of James Joyce, whom he met when Joyce lived in the same city. I was told when I was there that this book is a standard text in Italian schools.

I found it hard going, though. I don’t know if it was the translation (by William Weaver in the Penguin edition), which is an unfair question to wonder about, since I have no way of assessing its quality, but the language was stodgy and events unfolded very slowly. I am reasonably sure that is deliberate – the novel is a sort of stream of consciousness, an interior monologue by the eponymous protagonist, and you glean a lot about his character from living inside his head. However, I found it quite repetitive and a bit dull. Zeno is very human in his failings – he is always justifying his bad actions to himself, and this is funny. He always has excuses for not giving up smoking, for drinking, and for having sex with women other than his wife. He is a hypochondriac and very petty bourgeois. A bit like Mr Pooter in Diary of a Nobody.

But, overall, I found it a bit slow. I wish I had enjoyed it more than I did – I did try, honest.

 

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