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Day 15

Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo

p. 296—p. 318 (“the Ada who had scornfully repulsed me no longer existed, unless my medical books were mistaken.”)

September 27, 2022 by Claire Messud

Guido’s violin, that source of early envy for Zeno, proves “a kind of Achilles’ spear in the variety of its functions”—a seductive music for Carla as it had been for Ada, it then becomes a buffer between Guido and his wife at home. Music, in Zeno’s Conscience, plays as much a role as do some characters…

I’ve always loved Zeno’s riff on fish: “A fish lacks any means of communicating with us, and cannot arouse our compassion… His suffering, if it exists, is perfectly concealed beneath his scales.” Communication, in spite of its murkiness and frequent failures, is what makes us human, and what animates this novel, which has so few descriptions of place, so little scene-setting: it’s all about people, and the tangle of their relationships.

I’ve also always loved Zeno’s idea for a “domestic tramway” on which to dispatch a screaming baby to the farthest corner of the house—when our kids were small and screaming, we joked at our house that we too wished for such a device!

Zeno tells Guido to drop him off early from their nocturnal fishing expedition because he worries his baby might be ill. When this is in fact the case, “It seemed to me a divine punishment… Hadn’t I caused her illness, feigning for Guido a concern for her health that I didn’t feel?” How many times have we feared that our lies might be performative, like a spell?

Ada’s postnatal illness—Basedow’s disease, aka Graves’ disease—prompts in Zeno a wonderful grandiose reflection upon humanity and the spectrum of health: “At one end is Basedow’s disease, which implies the generous, mad consumption of vital force”; at the other, depression and inanition: “Society proceeds because the Basedowians push it, and it doesn’t crash because the others hold it back”—the golden mean, the balance between extremes, is “only a way station.”

Daily Reading

Day 1

p. 3 (Preface)—p. 20 (“I was too busy missing other things.”)

Day 2

p. 20—p. 37 (“But I would have been amazed to see him really happy, alone and old as he was.”)

Day 3

p. 37—p. 60 (end of “My Father’s Death”)

Day 4

p. 61—p. 80 (“It’s surely easier to change oneself than to reshape others.”)

Day 5

p. 80—p. 98 (“On the crowded Via Cavana, therefore, I had thought more purposefully than in my solitary study.”)

Day 6

p. 98–p. 117 ("'Good for you, Zeno. You’ve earned your keep.’”)

Day 7

p. 117—p. 139 (“all the flotsam accumulated in my nerves would have been swept away by it.”)

Day 8

p. 140—p. 162 (“unless it was crushed beneath an entire speeding train.”)

Day 9

p. 162—p. 185 (“I had found something more than a mere pretext for doing what it was my desire to do.”)

Day 10

p. 185—p. 209 (“I continued acting the sick man.”)

Day 11

p. 209— p. 232 (“wine shouts it, overlooking whatever life has subsequently added.”)

Day 12

p. 232—p. 253 (“but on some crowded city street”)

Day 13

p. 253—p. 271 (end of chapter)

Day 14

p. 272–p. 296 (“I would not torment myself any more for having wanted to play that false role of Mentor.”)

Day 15

p. 296—p. 318 (“the Ada who had scornfully repulsed me no longer existed, unless my medical books were mistaken.”)

Day 16

p. 318—p. 336 (“But did that axiom apply also to Guido?”)

Day 17

p. 336—p. 357 (“…unless I was supported by all the members of the family.”)

Day 18

p. 358— p. 378 (“I would say this to Ada herself at the first opportunity.”)

Day 19

p. 378—p. 394 ("I would find, at tomorrow’s opening, the high level of that morning.”)

Day 20

p. 394—p. 418 (“…I must throw away these playthings.”)

Day 21

p. 418—End

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