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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Invisibility Cloak

Ge Fei

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To purchase The Invisibility Cloak

Title: The Invisibility Cloak
Author: Ge Fei
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 126 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: The Invisibility Cloak - US
The Invisibility Cloak - UK
The Invisibility Cloak - Canada
  • Chinese title: 隐身衣
  • Translated by Canaan Morse

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, laid-back novel of slice of modern China

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 1/8/2016 .
Wall St. Journal . 26/10/2016 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "The novelís relentlessly flat tone could frustrate, but amplification isnít always necessary to produce a memorable effect." - Publishers Weekly

  • "(A) sly and damning piece of work. (...) Ge Fei offers a wry example for Chinese novelists hoping to follow a more cautious path than Yan Lianke has: Donít call attention to yourself; master the tools of allusion, metaphor and silence. In these ways the writer can smuggle vital truths past the censors." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

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 Invisibility Cloak is narrated by Mr. Cui. Divorced, nearing fifty, he now finds himself being not so gently nudged out of his home by his sister and, especially, brother in law. Past mid-life, he's finding himself almost entirely unmoored -- whereby his sister's strong-arm efforts to hook him up with someone (like, immediately) also aren't particularly helpful. With even his friend Jiang Songping unwilling to help him out, about the only one he has left to turn to is his dead mother.
       Cui is an audiophile, earning his living by putting together sound-systems -- specifically: building tube amplifiers. Not that he thinks most of his customers, with their terrible musical taste, can really appreciate his work. His father, who died when he was young, had worked in a radio tube factory and then, after getting laid off, would repair radios at home; his son seems to have followed in that not very ambitious but tinkering-obsessed fold.
       The Invisibility Cloak plods along fairly uneventfully. Cui is annoyed by his situation, but comes across as the type that takes things as they come and figures something will work out, one way or another. He does come across a house that's to his liking, and he comes up with a plan to raise the funds to purchase it: his prized possessions are two very valuable Autograph-speakers -- in the divorce, his wife got the apartment and he got the speakers, and he maintains that was a fair split -- and now he's willing to part with them, as part of a super-sound-system package he's willing to offer to one Ding Caichen, one of China's new super-rich, who lives in a well-protected estate outside Beijing.
       It doesn't work out exactly as planned -- aside from the fact that Ding Caichen, too, has little musical knowledge and can't fully appreciate the sound system, Cui doesn't get paid in a timely fashion -- and money is hard to collect from the isolated super-rich (and possibly mob-connected). It throws a wrench in Cui's house-buying plans -- yet things work out, one way or another.
       In chapters titled after sound equipment and pieces of music, Cui wends his way both through the present and the past. He fills in -- in sketch-form -- his own background, as well as those of his friends and family. It's all fairly sketchy, as even, for example, whatever terrible thing Jiang Songping did to Cui's sister many years ago remains unrevealed. (It must have been terrible: Cui is willing to forgive and forget (not that he knows what happened), but even Jiang Songping remains scarred, admitting: "I can't even forgive myself !".)
       Cui is both something of a slacker and a loner. The title of the novel comes from such a cloak that a 1990s "celebrity tycoon" -- and hi-fi enthusiast -- supposedly had, which allowed him to: "show up at any event unseen". Cui himself isn't quite invisible, and there is considerable interaction with others, but in many ways he seems to almost float through this novel cloaked near-invisibly. Ge Fei uses Cui particularly well as observer: it's the secondary cast of characters, those Cui deals with, that lead more intriguing and active lives. Here too, we never get to see too far -- even disturbing personal details, such as how Cui's nephew has distanced himself from his parents, or Ding Caichen's fate, are only glimpsed instead of clearly spelled out and explained. It's not that Cui isn't curious, but even when he pesters someone for more details he doesn't really probe very hard; so, for example, he never learns the name of the woman he winds up with ("She told me I could call her whatever I wanted").
       The first chapter closes with Cui noting:

     Something is definitely wrong with this world.
       He doesn't entirely sit back and wait for what comes next, but he also tries not to get too involved: if there's something wrong with the world, he certainly doesn't see himself in any position to right it. The conclusion makes for a sort of happy ending -- including him finding himself with a family -- and yet much about it is almost entirely surreal, and even he admits: "I still felt lost, as if everything in my life were ambiguous". But he seems to be able to make peace with that.
       Ge Fei does the slightly off-kilter very well, making for some nicely understatedly bizarre and fun touches. All in all, The Invisibility Cloak is an agreeable little story, drifting nicely with its narrator, but along the way also giving a good sense of the rapid changes in modern China, and the human costs.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 September 2016

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The Invisibility Cloak: Reviews: Other books by Ge Fei under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Ge Fei (格非; actually Liu Yong) was born in 1964.

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