You are about to read a couple of books reviews. Both novels defy pigeon-holing into simple, neat genres, and may make you rethink the notion that you've "read it all before". 1. "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller" by Italo Calvino <http://www.amazon.com/winters-night-traveler/dp/0156439611> This is one of the rare books written mainly in the second person. What does that mean? Basically the author is addressing "you", the Reader, directly, just as I did at the start of this post. This can be a little strange at first, but it is crucial to the structure of the novel. The author sets the ball rolling beautifully in the opening chapter, which can be read online at: <http://www.italo-calvino.com/ifon.htm> What follows is an intriguing story about how the Reader is frustrated in his attempt to read the novel he thinks he's reading. On completing the first chapter he finds the same chapter is reprinted for the rest of the book. He returns it to the shop and is told that there's been a publishing mistake, and the chapter he's just read is actually from a completely different book. Rather than accept a replacement copy of the first book, the Reader wants to finish the story he started, so he asks for a copy of the other book. At the shop he meets the Other Reader, and we follow their shared (mis-) adventure of reading, in succession, the first chapters of ten distinct novels. The causes of this are varied: misprints, plagiarism, fraud, mistranslations, censorship, etc. The Readers are determined to do whatever is necessary to complete the book they started! Don't be put off by the undeniable comments that this is an "experimental" (or "conceptual") text. Each of the "first chapters" works as a story in its own right, and the narrative that ties them together is very well done. Overall it's one of the most creative books I've ever read. I first read this book about nine years ago, and at the time thought it was an amazing piece of writing. Reading it again, this time in the original Italian, I found I gained even more out of it. In some ways this validates the author's use of the Reader as a protagonist in the novel, since every reader brings their own unique set of experiences and reading "history" to any book they read. I accept that it is probably not a book everyone will enjoy, but if you like reading a lot and want to try something different, then this could interest you. 2. "Ocean Sea" by Alessandro Baricco <http://www.amazon.com/Ocean-Sea/dp/0375703950> The book presents an intriguing collection of characters, whose paths all meet at the mysterious Almayer Inn by the sea. Plasson is a renowned painter of portraits. He wants a new challenge: to paint the Ocean. But most of his attempts have resulted in an empty canvas. He is used to starting portraits by painting the eyes, but he's having trouble finding the "eyes" of the sea. Bartleboom is a professor, writing "An Encyclopedia of the Limits to be found in Nature". Among other things, he wants to find out where the sea starts and where it ends. Also, he's constantly writing letters to the love of his life, whom he is yet to meet. He stores the letters in a box, and will give the box to his beloved when he finds her. Ann Deveria is staying at the Inn in the hope that she will be cured of her malady - adultery. She also has a way of "seeing", that is perceiving, the world. Elisewin is a lifeless young girl. Her father reluctantly accepts advice that the sea can restore his daughter's vitality. But the sea might also bring about her death. Father Pluche is a priest, entrusted with looking after Elisewin. He's feeling a bit lost. He's writing a book of prayers, which so far contains 9,502 entries. Savigny used to be a doctor in the French Navy. He survived a ship- wreck, while many others perished. His story of survival will be told in the middle part of the book. Adams also survived the shipwreck, and he has a rather different view of what happened on the large raft as it drifted on the ocean after the wreck. Adams "has the look of an animal stalking his prey". The middle of the book is called "The Womb of the Sea". Comparisons to Joseph Conrad are not unreasonable. This part of the book is like a mini "Heart of Darkness", wherein the many horrors of the Sea are revealed. The third and final part of the book, "The Songs of the Return", brings each of the stories of the main characters to an unpredictable resolution. It's interesting that many reviews have compared Baricco's writing to that of Calvino. The comparison is valid: they both are very creative, and both dare to break with convention.