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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Invisible City

Emili Rosales

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To purchase The Invisible City

Title: The Invisible City
Author: Emili Rosales
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 261 pages
Original in: Catalan
Availability: The Invisible City - US
The Invisible City - UK
The Invisible City - Canada
The Invisible City - India
La ville invisible - France
Tiepolo und die Unsichtbare Stadt - Deutschland
La città invisibile - Italia
La ciutat invisible - España (Catalán)
La ciudad invisible - España (Español)
  • Catalan title: La ciutat invisible
  • Translated by Martha Tennent

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Our Assessment:

B : good premise, good writing, but kind of blah

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 30/10/2009 John O'Connell
Publishers Weekly . 9/4/2012 .
TLS . 23/9/2005 Matthew Tree

  From the Reviews:
  • "Why did this grand project falter ? The Invisible City supplies answers, but in such a clotted fashion that the reader is ultimately none the wiser." - John O'Connell, The Guardian

  • "The graceful, flowing prose of the translation well suits the intricate plot and vivid main characters." - Publishers Weekly

  • "La ciutat invisible is an example of what the Catalans call una novella correcta, meaning that it is is plausibly structured and written with a certain literary flair, but lacking in ambition and punch. Its strength is surely its core premiss: the extraordinary intention of a Spanish king to convert a secluded corner of Catalonia into a vast metropolis. But the less robust subplots, and a rather precious style that occasionally sinks into refined purpledom, leave you longing for a bit more authorial verve." - Matthew Tree, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Invisible City begins with narrator Emili Rossell, who runs an art gallery in Barcelona, receiving an anonymous gift: a journal by 18th-century architect Andrea Roselli titled Memoirs of the Invisible City, covering the years 1759 to 1769. This immediately reminds Emili of his childhood in the Ebro delta, where he grew up near the ruins of Charles III's ambitious but largely unrealized plan for a city. The 'Invisible City', as the kids called it, remained shrouded in mystery (and the adults were of little help in providing information about it) -- but the journal provides more information about what the king had planned.
       The novel moves back and forth between the present day and, through the journal entries, the eighteenth century, as Rossell and Roselli tell their two stories. Rossell has been invited by a friend, Sofia, to a launch party: she and her husband have enjoyed great success in real estate, but she wants to be in the art business. The party is initially a success, but soon enough it turns out that Sofia's world hangs in rather precarious balance and she needs Rossell's help -- specifically in finding a lost Tiepolo. As it turns out, Tiepolo figures in the journal he is reading -- and since the painter spent his last years under the patronage of Charles III there may have been a commission to paint something for the planned but never realized city .....
       The decade-spanning journal finds Roselli sent to St. Petersburg, the city Peter the Great built more or less from scratch, in order to learn what is required for such a grand project. He has a variety of adventures along the way, making for an entertaining enough historical ramble, but it remains rather rambling. One of the issues he has is his relationship with the woman he left behind on his long trip -- and in the present-day Rossell too has a variety of issues with the women in his life, past and present.
       A number of questions are raised over the course of the story, from who sent the manuscript to Rossell (and why), to the history of the 'Invisible City' (and why it remained invisible, i.e. why Charles III didn't go through with building it), to whether there is a missing Tiepolo to be found somewhere, to the identity of Rossell's father -- one of the mysteries that has haunted Rossell since childhood.
       The ingredients all seem to be here, and author Rosales mixes things up reasonably well, with Rossell recalling his earlier years and the friends and schoolmates of his adolescence, several of whom are still important figures in his life in the present and come to play important roles in the unfolding story. But the mix is also somewhat forced -- the mess that Sofia and her husband get themselves into, in particular (as is also the way out Sofia sees) -- and Rosales fails to ratchet up much excitement effectively. It's all quite well-written, and yet the story potters along with surprisingly little drama.
       The Invisible City offers some interesting period detail but its variety of plot-twists feel rather uninspired, Rosales unable or unwilling to breathe real life into them. The outlines of the stories seem promising enough, but their realization falls flat.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 December 2012

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The Invisible City: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Emili Rosales was born in 1968.

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