I’m somewhat at a loss of what to say about Gogol’s Wife and Other Stories by Tommaso Landolfi.
In some respects, Landolfi’s stories reminded of Borges’ Fictions: they have elements the bizarre. I didn’t enjoy reading Borges (thoughts here), but I did sense a genius and power behind the writing. Landolfi’s writing is likewise laudable, although I wonder once again what the genius behind the stories actually is. I think it is beyond me.
In some stories, Landolfi narrates incredibly unbelievable events as if they actually occurred, a technique that seemed much like Borges’ stories. For example, in his title story “Gogol’s Wife,” the narrator describes his association with the author Nikolai Gogol and Gogol’s wife, who is a balloon. Yes, a balloon. The bizarre accounts in the story would have been amusing if I wasn’t so distracted by the oddness of it. “Pastoral” likewise is odd: a lonely girl visiting the country writes a city girl about the “hibernation” of the country people during the winter.
Other stories don’t have supernatural elements but have rather difficult personal subjects. “The Two Old Maids” is about a monkey that breaks into a chapel at night. “The Death of the King of France” is a “long and wearisome” account of a man letting go of his obsession with his 12-year-old adopted daughter. (I don’t think I completely understood this disturbing story; please correct me if you think there is a different point to it.)
Some stories weren’t disturbing and were short and easier to relate to. “Dialogue on the Greater Harmonies” asks the question: are poems written in a nonexistent language really a work of art? “Giovanni and His Wife” shares the story of two duet singers – who sing out of tune completely together. “Sunstroke” details the last moments of the death of an owl, and “Wedding Night” is about the chimney sweep visiting during a wedding feast.
In the end, it seems Landolfi’s stories ask questions attempting to define art, right and wrong, and acceptable relationships.
I read Landolfi’s stories because Harold Bloom recommends “Gogol’s Wife” in How to Read and Why. In reading Harold Bloom’s praise of the story “Gogol’s Wife,” I now realize that I must be familiar with Gogol and his writing before it will make sense. Yes, Landolfi’s story was definitely beyond me.
In the end, I readily admit I missed something. I can’t say I loved reading Landolfi, but it’s nice to know that I’m trying things I would not otherwise pick up. I’m trying to have an open mind. Maybe someday I’ll revisit Landolfi and understand better his themes.
If you have reviewed any of Landolfi’s stories on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.