Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Invisible Cities

The first of the 'C' authors as the challenge continues.

Italo Calvino was a highly respected Italian author (he passed away in 1985), and Invisible Cities is considered to be one of his notable works.

It's rather hard to know how to even classify the book, let alone review it. It is most definitely fantasy, but it's not really a novel, more a collection of prose poems. It also doesn't follow the classical novel structure, only two characters and these are only sketchily drawn, no narrative and no real focus.

The premise is a series of imaginary conversations between the Italian explorer Marco Polo and the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan (grandson of the mighty Genghis Khan). The explorer entertains his host with stories of fantastical cities, largely imaginary (an alternative title could be Imaginary Cities), that he has seen on his travels. Some of the described cities are very obviously facets of Polo's birthplace and home of Venice, others have never been heard of before and are not recognisable as any known city on this world. Most, if not all, of the cities have female names and I wondered if perhaps the author was using his depiction of the city as a metaphor to describe some of the women in his life or or women who had influence on his life in some form or another.

Each of the book's 9 chapters begins and ends with a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai. The cities are divided into 11 categories: Memory, Desire, Signs, Thin, Trading, Eyes, Names, Dead, Sky, Continuous and Hidden. The Continuous cities seemed to be modern cities mentioning things such as airports, refrigerators and radios.

The book isn't written as a novel and I doubt it was meant to be read that way, it seems to be more something you dip into from time to time, or read a bit of it and think on it before continuing.

It is beautifully and lovingly written, Calvino chooses his words carefully and uses them well, often with maximum impact on the reader.

It's not something I would have ever chosen to read had it not been on the list and I doubt it will prompt me to read any of Calvino's other work, but it was an interesting and brief experience. Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora with it's loving descriptions of the Venetian inspired Camorr and Brian Aldiss' Malacia Tapestry also put me in mind of Venice, so they share something with Invisible Cities. If the book's two main 'characters' interest, both have been written about extensively and a good deal of non fictional work can be found about them if anyone wishes to explore further.

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