Aside from the brief near-collision of planes at the beginning, each flown by the two protagonists, Daniele Del Giudice’s Lines of Light is a calm, quiet, meditative, and largely uneventful book both in terms of content and prose. One might even go so far as to call it a novel of ideas, but it’s also a novel of friendship, in this case between Brahe the physicist (a surname that’s an obvious nod to Tycho) and Epstein the novelist. The scientific and the creative, two ways of seeing the world, and yet, more than most might realize, these are overlapping magisteria (to borrow Stephen Jay Gould’s phrase) rather than some myth of right-brain, left-brain. Fortunately, Del Giudice isn’t proffering this split, not as such, and over the course of the novel, these two characters become closer and closer in their friendship, such as having drinks together or going to watch fireworks, the lines of light in the sky evoking the lines of traveling and colliding particles physicists strain to see. Both protagonists are struggling in their field after having accomplished so much in the past. The novelist in particular is unable to write any longer because he sees stories in their whole, which is the suggested endgame of the storyteller even if he isn’t telling those stories. In the end, they both get recognized for their work, the radio announcing a scientific discovery and a literary award respectively, and like in a romantic comedy, Brahe rushes to the train station to catch Epstein before he leaves the country, further bonding over this sappy happenstance of good fortune.
Apparently, Calvino was a cheerleader of this novel, which was translated from the Italian by Norman MacAfee and Luigi Fontanella a few years after its initial 1985 publication (the original title, Atlante occidentale, translates to Western Atlas). In fact, Del Giudice died near the end of 2021 and the Italian press repeatedly claimed in their obituaries that Calvino “discovered” Del Giudice, as though he were some kind of particle in the realm of physics. In some of the more philosophical and meditative moments, you can see how the master has influenced even this writer, whose style is so far from Calvino, fully in the realist mode and with sentences that are only extreme in their good manners (think of a diluted Richard Powers meets Raymond Carver, the latter writer’s entire aesthetic being one of dilution, “thin-blooded minimalism,” as Steven Moore would put it). Those ‘Calvinoesque’ moments involve a couple of mentions of cities and their nature (“He thought of the city he had lived in, of the cities he had imagined or heard of; how each of those cities had had its own personality, a personality he had forced himself to know….”), as well as speculations on the nature of time, particularly if Albert Einstein and Franz Kafka ever met while they were living in Prague: “Or confused times in which they expect to meet, to meet momentarily, but never do, because in reality they already met, though neither was aware of it. Or bifurcated times in which they meet and don’t meet at the same time, and the meeting and the nonmeeting are totally equivalent.” Stated rather than explored within an imaginative narrative frame, as Calvino would have done (in fact, had done over a decade earlier), these moments have much less energy, although still more than others in the novel. The New York Times Book Review blurb on the jacket claims that Del Giudice is a “possible heir” to Calvino and that this novel is “on a level with Calvino’s best work. I can vouch for the absurdity of such claims. However, there’s a comfort to Lines of Light that could be just right for the right reader, like Goldilocks’ bowl of porridge. Alas, I’m no such reader and would much rather sit at the sumptuous banquet of Calvino’s oeuvre.
For early access to literary content like this and other awesome benefits, consider supporting The Collidescope on Patreon.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.