Friday Staff Pick: Zeno’s Conscience

Zeno’s Conscience
Italo Svevo

This modernist classic deserves its reputation as a masterful immersion in the contortions of one neurotic mind. It’s the voice here that wins one over, as our hero good-naturedly dissects his own petty motivations, gets caught up in layer after layer of sincerity about his own falsity, and generally plays his own convoluted psyche as a virtuoso would a pipe organ. Simply put, it’s hard not to love being spoken to by Zeno. —Recommended by Matt, City Lights Books

Long hailed as a seminal work of modernism in the tradition of Joyce and Kafka, and now available in a supple new English translation, Italo Svevo’s charming and splendidly idiosyncratic novel conducts readers deep into one hilariously hyperactive and endlessly self-deluding mind. The mind in question belongs to Zeno Cosini, a neurotic Italian businessman who is writing his confessions at the behest of his psychiatrist. Here are Zeno’s interminable attempts to quit smoking, his courtship of the beautiful yet unresponsive Ada, his unexpected—and unexpectedly happy—marriage to Ada’s homely sister Augusta, and his affair with a shrill-voiced aspiring singer. Relating these misadventures with wry wit and a perspicacity at once unblinking and compassionate, Zeno’s Conscience is a miracle of psychological realism.

 

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