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Zeno's Conscience

by Italo Svevo

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,555483,524 (3.78)85
The modern Italian classic discovered and championed by James Joyce, ZENO'S CONSCIENCE is a marvel of psychological insight, published here in a fine new translation by William Weaver - the first in more than seventy years. Italo Svevo's masterpiece tells the story of a hapless, doubting, guilt-ridden man paralyzed by fits of ecstasy and despair and tickled by his own cleverness. His doctor advises him, as a form of therapy, to write his memoirs; in doing so, Zeno reconstructs and ultimately reshapes the events of his life into a palatable reality for himself - a reality, however, founded on compromise, delusion, and rationalization. With cigarette in hand, Zeno sets out in search of health and happiness, hoping along the way to free himself from countless vices, not least of which is his accursed "last cigarette!" (Zeno's famously ineffectual refrain is inevitably followed by a lapse in resolve.) His amorous wanderings win him the shrill affections of an aspiring coloratura, and his confidence in his financial savoir-faire involves him in a hopeless speculative enterprise. Meanwhile, his trusting wife reliably awaits his return at appointed mealtimes. Zeno's adventures rise to antic heights in this pioneering psychoanalytic novel, as his restlessly self-preserving commentary inevitably embroiders the truth. Absorbing and devilishly entertaining, ZENO'S CONSCIENCE is at once a comedy of errors, a sly testimonial to he joys of procrastination, and a surpassingly lucid vision of human nature by one of the most important Italian literary figures of the twentieth century.… (more)
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» See also 85 mentions

English (31)  Italian (8)  French (4)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  German (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
I read this book in Trieste... it was the perfect accompaniment to my trip. ( )
  lemontwist | Sep 4, 2023 |
Literary masterpiece, with a shocking final twist.

"Confessions of Zeno" is the journal of a middle-aged man in Trieste, Italy (in the NE, near Croatia, Slovenia and Austria). He first describes briefly his difficult relationship with his father, and his problems quitting smoking, but then moves to the heart of his narrative, which concerns his life spent with a successful merchant-class family, with whose father he has a business relationship, and whose two daughters he desires a personal relationship.

He courts each daughter in turn, eventually marrying one, but keeps a mistress for a time, and comes to befriend the man who marries the other daughter, even entering into a business relationship with him. He manages to have a child, and lives a relatively quiet bourgeois existence.

The problem is, he is utterly detached, self-absorbed, and hypocritical. A narcissist's narcissist. When I say "business relationship", I use the term loosely. He despises honest labor!

Worse, during the various troubles he has with his friends and family, he cannot see it is his personality which causes them. The book is subtle and clever, describing the story through his eyes, but still making it clear he is usually the trouble-maker. The unreliability of a narcissist's narrative is its own undoing.

The journal was supposed to have been written for the sake of a psychologist, who is now publishing it to convince his patient he requires more therapy. For the greater part, it is a generally plain book, with interesting characters who take us through interesting adventures, even if those adventures are made comical by the man writing the tale, unaware what a clown he truly is.

But only by the end of the book does the book's full effect dawn on us, and we finally understand the psychologist. The ending is quite subtle. I was shocked enough to re-read the last few pages a few times before actually believing what it seemed to say. But the book's message was that much more effective because of this subtlety. After reading a "plain" book for so many pages, the ending is that much more powerful.

The book's style is clear and engaging, the characters well drawn and endearing, and the stories charming. Many readers will be happy enough to follow this "tragicomic" story for its own sake, but patient and insightful readers will be rewarded with a conclusion that forces them to question what the book had told them all along, and reflect on the meaning of life, love, family, and friendship. ( )
  jvhovig | Aug 25, 2023 |
A classic of 20th century Italian literature.
  ccatalfo | Feb 15, 2023 |
An amazing, dizzying read. Perhaps a little too much on the smoking problem in the 1st 50 pages, but stick with it. Ultimately a minute dissection of a weak and varied man and his feelings for a woman he first hopes to marry, but instead becomes a brother in law too. This woman- Ada- marries the evidently stupendous Guido- the man of wealth, culture, fine violin playing and such coolness. Our man - Zeno - befriends him ... to stay close to Ada- ?, to stay close to Ada ?, out of goodness ?, to undermine him ? Sounds so slow and unimportant but the genius is in the casual changes of mood, tone and action - so real, so true to life. It is called "stream of consciousness" but i think this insufficient for this unreliable narrator. Nothing much happens in this book, but I cherish it. ( )
  apende | Jul 12, 2022 |
Someone needs to do a gigantic public service announcement and then create a computer virus that will delete all the sentences grouping this together with Ulysses and Proust and Woolf, all of whom are chiefly known for their formalism and prose.

This is Sterne in the late nineteenth century, no more, except with workmanlike prose, rather than Sterne's endlessly propulsive rush of words. The chapters go on for far too long, and although they're quite funny, that's really about all there is to it. The unreliability of the narrator doesn't make the book a modernist masterpiece; that's how comic novels (and, indeed, poems) have always worked.

Having said all that, it is genuinely funny, and some of the scenes have stayed with me far more strongly than I would have expected. I just don't to spend hours looking back through the book to find those bits again. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Zenos Handschrift ist die eines Triestiner Kaufmannes am Anfang dieses Jahrhunderts. Durchschnittlich gebildet, erfolglos in der Arbeit und anfangs unglücklich verheiratet, gibt Svevos Protagonist mehr Anlass zu Mitleid und oberflächlicher Belustigung als zu ernsthaftem Interesse. Gerade dieses scheinbar allzu langweilige Durchschnittsschicksal macht auch die Schwierigkeit des Romans aus, der seine Qualitäten erst auf Umwegen preisgibt. Wer Zeno, wer Svevo verstehen will, muss bereit sein, nicht nur über ihn zu lachen, sondern ihn gar auszulachen. Lachen über diesen verschrobenen Hypochonder, diesen schrulligen Egoisten, diesen unfähigen Ehebrecher, diesen naiven Feigling, diesen Antihelden durch und durch. Wer ihn dann auslacht, erkennt, dass auch Zeno Zeno durchschaut und auch Zeno über Zeno lacht.
 

» Add other authors (39 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Svevo, Italoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benco, SilvioAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Contini, GabriellaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hardwick, ElizabethPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Polkunen, MirjamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saccone, EduardoForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuin, JennyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Preface: I am the doctor who is sometimes spoken of in rather unflattering terms in this novel.
Introduction: See my childhood?
When I spoke to the doctor about my weakness for smoking he told me to begin my analysis by tracing the growth of that habit from the beginning.
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Misunderstanding women is a clear sign of scant virility.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

The modern Italian classic discovered and championed by James Joyce, ZENO'S CONSCIENCE is a marvel of psychological insight, published here in a fine new translation by William Weaver - the first in more than seventy years. Italo Svevo's masterpiece tells the story of a hapless, doubting, guilt-ridden man paralyzed by fits of ecstasy and despair and tickled by his own cleverness. His doctor advises him, as a form of therapy, to write his memoirs; in doing so, Zeno reconstructs and ultimately reshapes the events of his life into a palatable reality for himself - a reality, however, founded on compromise, delusion, and rationalization. With cigarette in hand, Zeno sets out in search of health and happiness, hoping along the way to free himself from countless vices, not least of which is his accursed "last cigarette!" (Zeno's famously ineffectual refrain is inevitably followed by a lapse in resolve.) His amorous wanderings win him the shrill affections of an aspiring coloratura, and his confidence in his financial savoir-faire involves him in a hopeless speculative enterprise. Meanwhile, his trusting wife reliably awaits his return at appointed mealtimes. Zeno's adventures rise to antic heights in this pioneering psychoanalytic novel, as his restlessly self-preserving commentary inevitably embroiders the truth. Absorbing and devilishly entertaining, ZENO'S CONSCIENCE is at once a comedy of errors, a sly testimonial to he joys of procrastination, and a surpassingly lucid vision of human nature by one of the most important Italian literary figures of the twentieth century.

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La storia di Zeno Cosini, inetto a vivere: una specie di marionetta tirata da fili che quanto più egli indaga, gli sfuggono. Una coscienza inutile a mutare un destino che sembra ineluttabile. E' il capolavoro di Svevo, la prima storia italiana dove entra prepotentemente in scena la psicanalisi come coprotagonista; forse il più grande romanzo del Novecento italiano e uno dei maggiori della letteratura europea del XX secolo.
(piopas)
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