Jeanette Winterson writes about Italo Calvino’s "The Night Driver"

In today’s Guardian, twelve writers write about their favourite short stories. Jeanette Winterson pens a beautiful description of Italo Calvino’s “The Night Driver” (from his 1967 collection t zero). I couldn’t find a link to it so I’m typing it out (p. 3 of Guardian‘s “Review” section):

As technology bounces us forward into future we do not choose, it is seductive, poignant, retro, fanciful, nostalgic, to dip back into a past that is nearby but gone – like a house you used to walk past before they pulled it down. 

I come from a time b4 mobile phones. So does this story. Imagine fighting with your lover on a landline. You hang up, like we all do, then when you feel a bit less hurt or self-righteous, you phone back but there is no reply. 

Grab your keys, jump into your car, race to see her or maybe him, because you worry someone else will be in the bed before it’s cold. You worry you have blown it. You worry.

In the car, racing past anonymous lights on the motorway, you suddenly wonder if the no reply means X is racing towards you…

Do you go back? Do you go on? Stop at a garage and call again?

It couldn’t happen could it, mobile in your pocket?

The tension in the story depends on the unknowing. Soon Calvino imagines a perpetual time, the time out of time of long car journeys where it becomes unnecessary to arrive. You have a lover. You are racing towards her/him. Your lover is racing towards you. You will never meet but meeting is no longer the purpose of the journey.

There is a kind of ecstatic doubt at the heart of the story; love matters, but does it matter that love is present? Love’s absence, or at least its endless pursuit and longing, might prove more satisfactory. 

The headlights coming towards you: Is that your lover?

The car racing past you: Is that your rival?

And who are you? Lover? Beloved? Cipher?

There is a companion podcast series and if you’d like to listen to Winterson’s discussion and reading of the story, her section is scheduled for Thursday.

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