So many of the things one talks about when talking about a book – the plot, the characterisation, the narrative – seem superfluous to mention with Invisible Cities. That’s not to say those things are absent. They exist, but in a miasmic sort of way. They are there in the detail, but it’s not in the hunting for them that you’ll appreciate them best. It’s the kind of book that I’m fairly sure gets cited as the reason why ‘literature’ is some kind of indecipherable in-joke. You can almost imagine it as the output of some single-sitting fever-dream bout of automatic writing.
Except of course that it’s not. It’s clearly crafted. As is usually the case with Calvino, there’s more than the words on the page at play. This is language across borders, and about borders, and how language encompasses numbers and signs and structure and images as well as words. But what of it? What good will the analysis do you? As the story so frequently underlines, you’ll not find these cities by going out and looking for them. Their beauty, their fascination is only on the page in front of you.
Above anything else I think it’s a book that speaks of language, of how language crosses boundaries, of beauty and of the need sometimes to switch off the critic, to eschew the subtext and simply to enjoy the poetry you turn your face to, wherever that may be.