Yes, I actually read Palomar a second time and found that it's less focused than I first thought. It does seem more focused than IC or IoaWNaT, but not much. There is something about the prose that seems distinctly Calvinesque. I wondered, as I from time to time do with a book, if I wouldn't have recognized it as Calvino if I hadn't known.
As for description, you'll find at the end that he says each chapter is composed of a Descriptive part, followed by a narrative part, followed by a contemplative part. I agree that the narrative parts are not always very compelling.
The best bits are at the beginning. The Naked Bosom chapter is hilarious. I've told students about it and gotten a laugh, even if they don't perfectly understand what I'm talking about. The tortoise mating chapter is also pretty funny.
While, IoaWNaT was amusing for me, I do imagine some of those chapters could have been very interesting novels. I sometimes have this feeling with Borges. There's one story in particular, something to do with Shakespeare, that makes me think: damn, this was a great idea for a story; wish he'd actually written it.
Middlemarch is massively impressive. I am very tempted to say it's far better than anything by Dickens, and yet, I find three or four Dickens novels more enjoyable to read.
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