Reviews of a couple of books that experiment with the art of storytelling... 1. "The Castle of Crossed Destinies" by Italo Calvino <http://www.amazon.com/Castle-Crossed-Destinies/dp/0156154552> This little book has two parts. Both use the same device, which some reviewers have labelled as a gimmick, while others consider it a master stroke. While riding a horse in the woods, the narrator stumbles across an unusual castle. He enters the castle and finds several people sitting around a table having supper. Nobody says a word - apparently everyone has lost the power of speech. After supper, the host brings out a pack of cards and places them on the table. These are not ordinary cards, being a bit larger than normal, and in addition to the usual playing cards the deck includes tarot cards. One of the guests starts picking out particular cards and laying them in a sequence on the table. In doing so he is announcing himself as the Knight of Cups, and the sequence of cards tells his story. When he finishes, another person uses more cards to tells his story, with the cards laid out so that they intersect with the previous storyteller's. This continues until the table is covered with the stories (the crossed destinies) of the guests. The book has pictures of the cards (the Bembo deck), which apparently date from the 15th Century. Note that unlike tarot card reading, the cards are not used to predict the future, and they are not selected randomly. As the cards are laid out, the narrator interprets the meaning of the cards and their combinations. The second part of the book, "The Tavern of Crossed Destinies", is based on a similar idea. This time people are meeting at a tavern, and a different set of playing/tarot cards is being used in telling their stories. Also, the sequence of cards making up the story can go in any direction, instead of being restricted to straight lines. The actual stories are based on well-known characters from literature and history, including Parsifal, Oedipus, Hamlet, Lady Macbeth and Saint Jerome. I'm not sure if the execution of the stories always lives up to the idea behind their construction. Fortunately the stories are short, so overall this was an interesting and enjoyable book, but not quite a great book. 2. "Pale Fire" by Vladimir Nabokov <http://www.amazon.com/Pale-Fire/dp/0679723420> The construction of this book is in three main parts (plus an Index). At its core is a 999-line poem, "Pale Fire", written by John Francis Shade during his last days. The poem ostensibly tells the story of the poet's life. His neighbour and friend, Professor Charles Kinbote, provides both a Foreword to the poem, and a detailed Commentary on selected parts of the poem. Kinbote, professor of literature at Wordsmith college in New Wye (in eastern USA), may not be the most reliable commentator. As you read the lines of the poem and the related comments, it appears that Professor Kinbote is a bit of a spin doctor. He uses episodes in the poem to weave a rather different story: that of the exiled King Charles II of Zembla ("a distant northern land" in Europe) and a plot to assassinate the King that goes horribly wrong. He tries to convince the reader that he has had a profound influence on Shade (the poet), particularly on the content of Shade's last poem. Kinbote highlights words and phrases in the poem to "prove" his case, and alludes to other "truths". It's amusing to read the poem together with Kinbote's commentary. Is Kinbote delusional, or is he actually telling the truth? Other readers have provided even more bizarre interpretations of what is going on - see: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Fire> Overall, quite a good read, especially if you're looking for something a bit different.