Novel: The Path to the Spiders’ Nests

“The writer, after writing, finds that he is the poorest of men.”

The debut novel of the 20th century novelist Italo Calvino, The Path to the Spiders’ Nests is set in Italy during the Second World War and finds the protagonist, a young boy named Pin, embroiled in the conflict between the Fascists and Partisans. Despite this rather grim setting the novel manages to swing between haunting images of wartime brutality and the genuinely funny passages based around a young boy’s utter confusion at adult infatuation with women and fighting, and their disregard of things Pin considers important, such as the titular area in which the spiders make their nests.

Pin is an orphan living in a small Italian town, with his only remaining family member being his abusive sister, the neighbourhood whore. Due to this unorthodox upbringing Pin is shunned by children his own age, and instead spends his time at the local bar, entertaining and infuriating the men who drink there. This is the scene as the novel begins, but the arrival of the war to this sleepy town leads to Pin’s arrest for stealing a pistol, and subsequently to his escape and residence with a ragtag group of Partisans, considered such a danger to the cause that they are denied any real role in the plans of the Communist resistance.

Anybody familiar with Calvino’s later work can see that the plot of The Path to the Spiders’ Nests is one of the authors less surreal works, but this is not to say that it lacks the charm of later novels such as If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, rather that it channels this charm in a different way. Throughout the story Calvino uses Pin’s young age as a device to allow numerous secondary characters to explain ideas and experiences as diverse as Communism, love and writing to him, many of which seem to be the Author speaking directly to the reader and trying to get across his own point of view. In one of these monologues a character confides his reasons for fighting, saying “I may not accomplish great deeds but history is made up of little anonymous gestures” a passage that really hammers home what Calvino is trying to write, not so much a war novel as a novel detailing part of the life of one anonymous child caught up in the death and destruction of World War Two, and at this it succeeds enormously well.

The Path to the Spiders’ Nests is not perfect however, with the simplicity of the main character at times growing slightly tiresome, and an ending which seems the work of a writer of far lesser talent than Calvino, leaving a real sense of disappointment when one turns the page and realises that the novel is in fact finished. These shortcomings can be attributed to Calvino’s inexperience at the time of writing however, and if considered against the book as a whole, these complaints are minor. Overall The Path to the Spiders’ Nests is well worth reading, and if it does not reach the heights of Calvino’s later work, this is more a reflection of their brilliance than this books failings.


2 thoughts on “Novel: The Path to the Spiders’ Nests

  1. I'd love to read this book, but I fear that very quickly I will discover that it was not the book I meant to read at all, but a translation of a different book by a different author with the same name as the translator of the book that I meant to read inadvertently interpolated into the text of the book that I meant to read by an unusual binding mistake at the printers.


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