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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A contemporary Chinese novel in the noir tradition - The Invisibility Cloak

Started reading another NYRB find, The Invisibility Cloak (I'm half-way thru and have no idea what the title means) by Chinese 40-something author Ge Fei (published 2012, translated into English last year). Ge Fei seems to be another non-American writer fascinated by the noir style and tone of the great American crime writers: tough and self-confident but social isolate protagonist, femmes fatales, creepy underworld types, moody streets and neighborhoods in well-known cities but unfamiliar (to most) locales. When I started reading this short (120 pp.) novel, I thought first of Murakami, but gradually realized the similarities were superficial only. In Murakami's noir-like Japanese fiction, he is fascinated by all things Western and we see a contemporary Tokyo that has adopted or adapted many American styles and cultural touchpoints: jazz music, recreational jogging or racing, spaghetti, coffee, and others. We get a sense of the world as one homogeneous culture under the sway of American cultural hegemony. Fei differs: His protagonist (unnamed?) is a specialist in super-high-end audio equipment, and while at first this seemed to me "Western" I have come to see this as an emblem of life among contemporary Chinese. The narrator's customers divide into 2 groups, extremely wealthy (often corrupt businessmen) or highly intellectual (college professors - much harder to deal w/, apparently). There are many elements to this narrative that feel odd or alien to American readers: the mother's belief in fortune-telling (she warns the narrator, aptly, against his impending marriage), the music the customers listen to is primarily Asian pop (w/ some Western classical, the narrator's favorite), for example. The novel moves along well, and technical info about high-end audio equipment and its maintenance (some afficianados, for ex., will listen only at night when the voltage is more steady and pure) fascinates me; on the other hand, Fei is a little slow out of the gate in developing his plot. Each chapter stands alone well (and each has a title, as if they are short stories), but half-way through we're waiting for some plot development: there's a looming element of a high-end customer who's sinister, but no confrontation, yet.

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