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Italo Svevo's masterpiece tells the story of a hapless, doubting, guilt-ridden man paralyzed by fits of ecstasy and despair and tickled by his own cleverness. His doctor advises him, as a form of therapy, to write his memoirs; in doing so, Zeno reconstructs and ultimately reshapes the events of his life into a palatable reality for himself - a reality, however, founded on compromise, delusion, and rationalization.
With cigarette in hand, Zeno sets out in search of health and happiness, hoping along the way to free himself from countless vices, not least of which is his accursed "last cigarette!" (Zeno's famously ineffectual refrain is inevitably followed by a lapse in resolve.)
His amorous wanderings win him the shrill affections of an aspiring coloratura, and his confidence in his financial savoir-faire involves him in a hopeless speculative enterprise. Meanwhile, his trusting wife reliably awaits his return at appointed mealtimes. Zeno's adventures rise to antic heights in this pioneering psychoanalytic novel, as his restlessly self-preserving commentary inevitably embroiders the truth. Absorbing and devilishly entertaining, ZENO'S CONSCIENCE is at once a comedy of errors, a sly testimonial to he joys of procrastination, and a surpassingly lucid vision of human nature by one of the most important Italian literary figures of the twentieth century.
This 20th century masterpiece uses the traditional form of autobiography to explore some very untraditional themes. Under the guidance of a psychoanalyst an old man looks back over his life, exploring his motives and trying to make sense of things, but when he decides to abandon the treatment, his reminiscences are published by Doctor S as an act of revenge against the patient who has frustrated the doctor's own desire for complete understanding. In laying bare the disturbing power relations between therapist and subject, Svevo explores the dynamics of identity and self-knowledge in ways which link him with his great contemporaries, Joyce, Proust and Musil.