Thursday, July 06, 2017

[Books] Book Look: The Invisibility Cloak, by Ge Fei

I have given a good deal of thought to this book and still really have no idea what to make of it. I read it on the recommendation that it was heavily Murakami-ish and pivotal to understanding contemporary Chinese fiction. And yet I have come away not knowing what to think.

Briefly, it is about an aging slacker who makes a living building very high end audio equipment for wealthy clients. It's not much of a living and the demand is decreasing. He has a certain contempt for his customers who want his services as a status symbol more than out of love of music. There is potential symbolism in that, but I'm not sure what. The dwindling of quality and craftsmanship? The crudening of taste? The belief that one quality sound system is differentiable from another is dubious to begin with -- maybe there's some sort of message about delusion? If I read it in the original Chinese would it be clear? Would I have to understand contemporary Chinese zeitgeist to get it?

In the course of the book we find out about three women our narrator has been connected with. First, a sirenic beauty who for a brief time was his wife and who he still in thrall of to some extent. Second, a blind date set-up with a plain woman whom he summarily rejects on flimsy grounds, later admitting that he was unfair to her. Third, a hideously disfigured and damaged woman with whom he fathers a child and seems to accept as his full partner. Again, the meaning is unclear. Is it a sign of personal growth -- seeing beyond the superficiality of beauty? Is it an admission of his own ugliness and damage?

There are other similar themes. Perhaps it is vague on purpose. I can develop no certain conclusions. That said, the book has many good qualities. First, it is short. That is not a backhanded compliment. Virtually all books presume upon your time, but not this one. The narrative is direct and economical, and therefore refreshing. The characters are sharp-tongued -- which is fun. And the mere fact that I felt compelled to give it so much thought says something.

Should you read The Invisibility Cloak? I don't see why not. A dedicated read would cover it in a single day. I doubt it will bore you. It may actually pique your interest in stereo equipment. And at worst, you come away with a bit of "hmmm" to ponder. Not bad for a small investment of time.