Without a doubt Invisible Cities is the most intriguing, unusual book I have read. It is so much so a bookseller made a point of telling me it was odd when I bought it off him. He didn’t sound altogether convinced I would enjoy it.The book is at worst surreal and confusing, at best beautiful, poetic and meaningful. To describe it best I would say it is, pure and simple, an ode to the city; any city you care to think of. Calvino is clearly a man who appreciated everything about cities from their basic design, location and purpose to the people who live in them.
The basic premise of the book is that Kublai Khan, a Chinese Emperor of immense power has vast territories he can never hope to visit in his lifetime so he employs envoys to travel the globe and report back to him on what they have seen. One of these envoys is the Italian adventurer Marco Polo who weaves wonderful descriptions of the many cities he has seen. The descriptions are often brief and rarely take up more than a page (often significantly less)and interspersed every ten pages or so are discussions between Kublai and Marco which are often very philosophical in nature.
I feel that occasionally Calvino was guilty of being too mysterious and cryptic. Sometimes I just didn’t understand what he was trying to say;
“It is a city made only of exceptions, exclusions, incongruities, contradictions. If such a city is the most improbable, by reducing the number of abnormal elements, we increase the probability that the city really exists. So I have only to subtract exceptions from my model, and in whatever direction I proceed, I will arrive at one of the cities which, always as an exception, exist…”
By and large I found the book fun, entertaining and meaningful but I would say it is certainly not a book for everyone and it takes a lot of hard work and imagination to appreciate it
Overall rating 4/5
Posted by Chris