ZENO’S CONSCIENCE BY ITALO SVEVO

Doctor: It’s [P] isn’t it? Can I call you [P]?

[P]: Sure

Doctor: Please sit down, [P].

[P]: Thanks, doc.

Doctor: This is our first time, so why don’t you tell me something about yourself, something you’re interested in, or your favourite film or favourite book perhaps.

[P]: Well, I recently finished reading a book, an Italian book, called Zeno’s Conscience.

Doctor: Italian? Do you like Italian novels?

[P]: I like Italian women.

Doctor: What’s the book about?

[P]: Adultery and smoking, mostly.

Doctor: Do you smoke?

[P]: No. Yes. All the time.

Doctor: But you said no at first.

[P]: I’m trying to quit.

Doctor: Is Zeno also trying to quit?

[P]Yes. He enters some kind of clinic, only to break out for fear of his wife cheating on him while he is in there. I enjoyed that, the idea of someone breaking out of an institution they have voluntarily agreed to enter. It’s funny.

Doctor: That’s the second time you’ve mentioned infidelity.

[P]: It is in the book.

Doctor: Have you ever been unfaithful, [P]?

[P]: I once had three girlfriends.

Doctor: Three? Simultaneously?

[P]: Yes. Nearly killed me.

Doctor: They did?

[P]: Not literally, of course. It was tiring. I had to let one go.

Doctor: Does Zeno have multiple partners?

[P]: He has two, his wife and a mistress called Carla.

Doctor: Does he let one go?

[P]: His mistress asks to meet his wife; Zeno arranges it so that she meets his wife’s sister instead. Very clever, that.

Doctor: Hmm.

[P]: But it doesn’t work, the best ideas never do. His mistress empathises with his fake-wife, and thinks her so beautiful that she ends the affair. This is typical of Zeno; he has a Larry David-like talent for getting into absurd situations, and for saying and doing the wrong thing, the most socially awkward thing usually.

Doctor: Give me another example.

[P]: When Zeno is first introduced to his future wife and her three sisters it is not his wife-to-be that he is interested in, but the one that his mistress, Carla, meets [in place of his wife later in the book]. The girl who becomes his wife is courted almost as an afterthought, by a process of elimination.

Doctor: Have you ever done something like that?

[P]: No, I couldn’t settle like that. It would be like getting a cookery book for Christmas when what you wanted was a mountain bike.

Doctor: Cookery books are useful.

[P]: Sure. Do you mind if I smoke?

Doctor: You can’t smoke in here. Aren’t you trying to quit?

[P]: Yes. This next will be my last.

Doctor: Really?

[P]: Of course, but, like Zeno, I will continue to smoke a series of last cigarettes. Last cigarettes are the sweetest. I’ve had four last cigarettes already today.

Doctor: You mentioned that Zeno voluntarily entered a clinic, how have you attempted to quit?

[P]: Patches, lozenges, gum…

Doctor: None of them worked?

[P]: Not when used simultaneously

Doctor: Anything else?

[P]: Zeno says you should try to quit on special days. I always try to quit on a Monday.

Doctor: Did Zeno see a psychiatrist too?

[P]: Yes. The book is dedicated to his psychiatrist, and is presented as the notes his psychiatrist asked him to keep on important subjects.

Doctor: I see. Tell me, do you like Zeno?

[P]: We are very similar. I once got locked in a bathroom on my first day in a new house. I had to coax a passing child into throwing a screwdriver to me through the window so that I could take the door of the hinges and let myself out. Ridiculous things like that happen to me all the time, and they happen to Zeno too.

Doctor: Why do you think that is?

[P]: Maybe I’m crazy.

Doctor: Is Zeno crazy?

[P]: His father thinks so. In response, Zeno has himself certified sane and takes the certificate home to his father as a joke. His father thinks this, going to the effort to have yourself certified sane, as even further proof of his insanity.

Doctor: How do you get on with your father?

[P]: I don’t really, he is just there.

Doctor: I see. So, why are you here today, P.?

[P]Well, Doctor, I keep writing reviews for a wordpress blog that appear to be about books that I have read but that are really all about me. I think I need help.

Doctor: No shit.

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