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Zeno's Conscience: A Novel Paperback – February 4, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Svevo’s masterpiece . . . [in] a fresh translation by the dean of Italian literary translators.” –Los Angeles Times

“An excellent new rendering [of a] marvellous and original book.”–James Wood, London Review of Books

“A masterpiece, a novel overflowing with human truth in all its murkiness, laughter and terror, a book as striking and relevant today as when it was first published, and a book that is in every good way–its originality included–like life.” –Claire Messud, The New Republic

“Hilarious. . . . Effortlessly inventive and eerily prescient. . . . William Weaver . . . updates the novelist’s idiosyncratic prose with great affection.” –The Atlantic Monthly

“An event in modern publishing. For the first time, I believe, in English, we get the true, dark music, the pewter tints, of Svevo’s great last novel. . . . [Svevo is] a master.” –Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

“[An] exhilarating and utterly original novel. . . . Weaver’s version strikes one as excellent.” –P. N. Furbank, Literary Review

“One of the great comic novels of the twentieth century. . . . [Svevo is] perhaps the most significant Italian modernist novelist.” –The Times Literary Supplement

“[A] neglected masterpiece. Seventy-five years old, the novel feels entirely modern.” –The Boston Globe

“A reason for celebration. . . . If you have never read Svevo, do so as soon as you can. He is beautiful and important.” –New Statesman

“One of the indispensable 20th-century novels. . . . A revolutionary book, and arguably (in fact, probably) the finest of all Italian novels.” –Kirkus Reviews

“No one has done more to make modern Italian literature available in English than William Weaver. . . . [His new translation is] scrupulously accurate.” –Anniston Star

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Italian --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727764
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is so wonderfully inventive and the character of Zeno Cosini so lovably comic, that I often wonder why it's not more widely read and loved. It was first published in Italy as La coscienza di Zeno, and James Joyce, no less, championed its cause and helped the English translation come into being. Still, the English speaking world, for some unknown reason, continues to ignore this wonderful book.
The protagonist of the book, Zeno Cosini, is a man at odds with himself. Hilarious odds. He loves analysis, but hates his analyst. He's neurotic to the core, but his desire to rid himself of his neuroses seems to be superseded by his amazing, and very funny, ability to rationalize things away.
When Zeno's despised analyst encourages him to keep a journal (write a memoir), Zeno does so even though he is lazy and fools himself into believing exactly what it is he wants to believe. A passionate smoker, who passionately wants to quit (naturally, since this pits him against his own worst enemy, himself), he begins his journal by recounting his various attempts at quitting smoking.
For Zeno, the quitting is the thing. He doesn't care how many days he goes without smoking. He doesn't care how many times he's failed in his attempts to quit. What exhilarates him, is the feeling he gets when he smokes, what he tells himself, will be his last cigarette. The problem is, Zeno needs to feel that exhilararion again. And again. And the only way to feel it again, is to quit smoking again, which necessitates taking up smoking yet again. You get my drift.
Smoking isn't Zeno's only problem in this book. Far from it. As a man who needs to be perpetually backsliding, Zeno wavers between a law degree versus a chemistry degree, then decides to join his family's business instead.
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Format: Paperback
Having just finished the novel, I have come to understand why the French lauded Svevo so, and why the Italians remained thoroughly ambivalent towards him until the mid 20th century. He is, in so many senses, a thoroughly French novelist- overly introspective, morally lacerated, solipsistic (in a Sartrean sense), morbidly self-conscious, brimming with weltschmerz, nauseatingly sensitive. This is, for all its supposed 'modernism' and invention, also a bit of an anachronism, a decadent novel of the highest order, one that belongs alongside the likes of Huysmans, Verlaine, Mallarme and other such lachrymose types. Yet, this has none of the rococo refinement of the symbolists and dandies- as many have said before me, the prose is often callous and awkward, a far cry from the mannered elegance of Lampedusa, Pavese, Moravia. Svevo is no cane-flailing aesthete, and his haphazard craftmanship adds to the off-balance strangeness of the book.

It is true that Zeno's Conscience is, on a cosmetic level, a very funny book, but the comedy (which is of an acerbic, bile-encrusted, jet-black sort, think Baudelaire, who is perhaps much closer to Svevo than any other writer I can think of) can hardly obscure the fact that this is one of the most disquieting books in existence. It has all the apocalyptic gravity of Hamsun's best work, all the soul-searing pathos/self-pity of "A Rebours", all the sulphurous savagery of Lautreamont, all the anguished desperation of Sade's finest work. Forget about the Joyce and Kafka comparisons- there is absolutely nothing affirmative about this book whatsoever.
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Format: Hardcover
The confessions of Zeno is an amazingly insightful novel about the folly of humanity, our amazing capacity for self delusion and our lack of understanding of our place in the great drama that is life.

Zeno is an elderly merchant in Trieste before World War One, who owes his success and money more to inheritance than to ability, who approaching the end of his life consults with a psychiatrist to cure his long term debilitating illnesses. As an exercise his Freudian psychiatrist asks Zeno to write a journal reviewing the major events of his life.

These journals form the basis for the confessions of Zeno and reveal a weak and shallow man. Zeno is subject to self delusions, he is almost totally lacking in self control, he is a man who plays at business while living of his inheritance, a man who marries because he feels that it is required of him, with little consideration of love, a man who blunders through life with little empathy causing harm to all around him. Yet what makes this novel fascinating is the authors ability to make Zeno despite all of his faults and weaknesses a likable and understandable human being.

Overall, an amazing book from a largely forgotten master.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When reading this book I could not help thinking "will I become a character in a Thomas Bernhard novel?". Would simply reading in the first person an account of a wildly off kilter person somehow make me a just a little bit crazy?

Italo Svevo's Zeno Cosini is such an odd, interesting, self obsessed character. He is completely oblivious to his own awkwardness. He is a big square peg that thinks he's fitting into a round hole worold when it is completely and utterly untrue. The genius in the writing is that it all comes from Zeno's perspective and still we can gather from the reactions and dialogue with his friends and family, particularly his in-laws that he's more than a strange bird. The writing is so intense that one might feel we're a little too close to Zeno's strange logic and easy self deceptions.

Zeno is not a very good guy. In fact in many ways he is entirely unlikeable. But at the same time so much of what he's thinking has a hint or ring of truth that left me frequently uncomfortable.

And then there are points of almost burst out loud hilarity. After a competitor for the hand of one of lovely women that he's obsessed with has completed a stirring violin solo at the Malfenti household it is Zeno that breaks the silence and crushes the moment with an obtuse technical question on how Guido played that last several notes. It was the classic Woody Allen or Larry David perfectly mistimed and inappropriate line that draws raging stares and leaves Zeno perplexed that his wit and intelligence were not fully welcome and appreciated. There are so many of these finely timed or ill-timed treats where Zeno has either lied, exaggerated or interjected.
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