Having grown up on Penguin Modern Classics, it is to be welcomed that Penguin have chosen to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the list by publishing fifty volumes of short fiction from some of their leading authors. Penguin Modern Classics introduced me as a teenager to much twentieth century European fiction, including Primo Levi (and I can’t remember the last time I read any Levi), and looking through the list of these newly-published mini-classics is something a nostalgia trip for me.
I think I have also remarked elsewhere on this blog that I am not commonly a great fan of the short story form (with some notable exceptions) – novels and novellas are more my thing – so to have these small, cheap volumes that act as a kind of taster (or reminder) of some great writers through their short stories is exciting. They are a perfect quick read, ideal for a short train journey (which is what happened to me with The Magic Paint), of a size to be crammed into a back pocket – volumes that look better crumpled and battered than in a pristine condition.
The Magic Paint is a collection of eight of Levi’s (short) short stories, all charactized by the precision and concision of the writing. They are also very funny – from the magic paint whose powers bring good luck to the kangaroo that comes to a dinner party. This is Levi having fun with his imaginary bizarre worlds and after I had finished reading this slim volume, I felt had had spent a very warm and amusing hour with an old friend.