Review: Catastrophe & Other Stories by Dino Buzzati

Catastrophe & Other Stories [1965] – ★★★★

This short story collection is from one of the most inventive minds of Italy – writer and poet Dino Buzzati (1906 – 1972). I liked this collection more than the one I read last year – Buzzati’s The Siren: A Selection of Short Stories. In Catastrophe & Other Stories, there are twenty stories overall, but I am reviewing only five below. Though this collection is a bit of a mixed bag, it is definitely worth a read, especially for those into absurdist, existentialist or Kafkaesque fiction.

I. Seven Floors – ★★★★★

This is the best story in the collection, in my opinion. In it, one Giuseppe Corte enters one unusual sanatorium and desperately wants to remain on its top floor – the seventh, but circumstances are not in his favour. Why such a desire? It so happens that this medical establishment is designed in such a way that its top floors are reserved for mild cases, and the further down you go, the more serious cases you encounter until eventually you hit floor one where the hopeless dying “convalesce”. One hero is soon torn by a dilemma: he does not want to be a serious medical case, but the lower floors also have better medical equipment and more knowledgeable doctors and nurses. What does one do? Seven Floors is a fine example of a purely Kafkaesque terror, and the story can also be viewed as a satire on illness, diagnosis, hypochondria, and medical establishment.

II. The Enchanted Coat ★★★★1/2

The more you have the more you want“. A man notices a well-cut suit on another man and asks that man who is his tailor. Upon receiving the directions to this tailor, our protagonist finds himself outside an ordinary building, but what awaits him as he is fitted his new coat is anything but ordinary. In the course of a day, the man discovers the fact that his new coat now “gives” him money, which means he finds rolls of banknotes in his new coat every time he puts his hand into his pocket. The man does not dwell on this mystery too long before he starts spending his new capital. Buzzati’s story explores the guilt of a man who has to live with the fact that he now enjoys the riches and luxury without ever having had to work for them.

III. Something Beginning with “L”- ★★★★1/2

Cristoforo Schroder, a timber merchant, comes to one village and is visited by his doctor and another gentleman. While he is doing his morning toilette, the doctor suggest to him that, although he is feeling better, it will be best if Schroder puts a number of leeches on himself (for a little therapeutic bleeding) while they are waiting in his room. Little Schroder suspects that what awaits in a few minutes’ time is something completely unimaginable. In this story, I particularly appreciated the dramatic contrast between the calm, unassuming beginning of the story and the horrifying, world-as-we-know-it-has-ended finale.

IV. The Epidemic – ★★★1/2

In this fantastical story, a rumour gets to Colonel Ennio Molinas, a civil servant working in one Ministry, that that the current influenza epidemic only affects those people who oppose the present government. Thus, all the people that get sick with this cold are deemed traitors and enemies. The only issue, though, is that soon the Colonel starts feeling unwell himself. Buzzati certainly knows how to maintain his readers complete attention – phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, but the ending is a little bit of an anti-climax, too.

V. Catastrophe – ★★★1/2

This story reminded me of Dürrenmatt’s The Tunnel, which I read last year. Here, a man finds himself on a train that moves rather fast through an Italian countryside when he notices that all the people found outside the train, that is on the fields and alleys, behave rather oddly – they are running and shouting. Our protagonist starts to wonder whether the train he is on, as well as this train’s destination, have something to do with the unbelievable panic he sees in these people when he looks out of a train window. This is one suspenseful story, but I found the ending too uncertain for this mystery.

7 thoughts on “Review: Catastrophe & Other Stories by Dino Buzzati

  1. Sounds like a fascinating collection (I snagged a copy a year or two ago)! I read and reviewed Buzzati’s Larger Than Life (1960, trans. 1962) which is considered the first “serious” Italian SF novel. And of course The Tartar Steppe….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The collection was good and the ideas are there, but one possible caveat is that some of these stories’ endings do leave much to be desired. I am not sure if you also noticed that with Buzzati. I mean I see how that was never an issue with The Tartar Steppe as the lack of dramatic resolution or proper ending there is the exact point of the story (its circular nature for one thing), but I think these “thought-provoking” and “suggestive” anti-climaxes do not really work in other stories.

      I should seek out “Larger Than Life”, thanks for this mention. I see from your review that it has a fair share of inventiveness and “Kafkaesque uncertainty” and there is nothing I love more in such stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great reviews! I remember reading one of Buzzati’s most famous books (I only know the title in Italian though – the one about bears in Sicily 😉 ) and really enjoying it. The atmosphere of some of those stories seem very similar to that one!

    Liked by 1 person

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