cover image The Invisibility Cloak

The Invisibility Cloak

Ge Fei, trans. from the Chinese by Canaan Morse. New York Review Books, $14 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-68137-020-0

Fei’s first novel to be translated into English, a slight tale about a hapless audiophile, is shot through with an eerie melody. The down-on-his luck protagonist, who constructs bespoke audio systems for Beijing’s elite, is divorced from his unfaithful wife and beset by a manipulative sister scheming to evict him. He stoically endures these financial and domestic troubles but inwardly seethes with Dostoyevskian rage. Disdainful of his pretentious, pontificating clients and a ruthlessly competitive society that has seen the “deliberate humiliation of the craftsmen,” the hero finds sanctuary in the connoisseurship of his artistically crafted sound equipment and the beautiful strains of music they emit: “I felt as if I had no business enjoying this luxury in such a polluted, chaotic world.” His specialized knowledge confers on him “an illusion of hiding in the quietest corner of the deepest place on earth,” that is, a kind of pleasurable invisibility. When his only friend sets him up with a sinister client looking to buy the “highest-quality sound system in the world,” the craftsman agrees to the immersive project, which introduces him into a shadowy, inscrutable world and a shrouded woman as invisible as he is. Fei, who won the 2015 Mao Dun Literature Prize, is content to let certain mysteries linger, perhaps sharing with his protagonist the belief that “the best attributes of anyone or anything usually reside on the surface.” The novel’s relentlessly flat tone could frustrate, but amplification isn’t always necessary to produce a memorable effect. (Oct.)