The Wild Inventions of Italo Calvino

Jeanette Winterson on Italo Calvino in the Times:

At the end of Italo Calvino's novella The Baron in the Trees, Cosimo, who travels only from tree to tree and never comes down from the world that he prefers to the world that presses its claims, finds himself near death. A host of noisome courtiers and curious peasants swarm under the canopy of the forest, waiting for him to submit to gravity's insistence. At the final moment, when all seems done and he must fall, an air balloon flies over the forest, trailing a rope. Guido makes one last leap. He catches the rope and disappears.

Calvino was a writer who preferred to disappear. He did not enjoy talking about himself, finding that the facts of life were a kind of Medusa's stare, as he puts it in his essay Lightness, published in 1985.

He used his fiction to escape himself, and the weight of the world. This was not by any means escapism; it was his answer to the eternal question: What is reality?

Calvino began as a political writer and journalist. He was born in San Remo in 1923 and published his first novel in 1947. The Path to the Nest of Spiders is socio-realism – the one and only book of that kind that he wrote – and the only work of his that he regretted. When a writer regrets something that he or she has written, if it is fiction, it is always, paradoxically, because the piece of work feels untrue.