#18: The Invisibility Cloak, by Ge Fei (trans. Canaan Morse)

Just as I’ve found that novellas often focus intensely on a sole protagonist, it seems they are also well-suited to narrowing in geographically and temporally, providing a detailed sense of a given place and its social mores. Ge Fei’s The Invisibility Cloak (translated by Canaan Morse and published as NYRB Classics Original), at an estimated 40,000 words, takes us into the urban spaces of modern Beijing as we follow the troubles of Mr Cui, an audiophile who makes money sourcing, building, and installing high-end custom stereo systems for wealthy clients.

Geographically, the novella charts a course around Beijing, from the opening page where a residential apartment complex “sits on the eastern edge of the Winter Palace, with its northern face hugging the flyovers of the north Fifth Ring Road”, to traditional and renovated inner-Beijing hutong, the central shopping district of Wangfujing, the Maliandao tea market, and the city’s outskirts where the wealthy, “even at the edges of a foul, trash-infested city […] always find a way to hunt down the last patches of pristine territory and claim them as their own.”

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#13: Fall On Me, by Nigel Featherstone

Nigel Featherstone’s Fall On Me is the first of three novellas published by Blemish Books in 2011/2012, and it’s an ideal example of the novella form and what differentiates it from longer novels. From the first few pages, Featherstone takes the reader inside the quotidian routine of Lou Bard, a thirty-eight-year-old café owner and single father; he wakes, “as he has done for as long as he can remember […] alone at dawn”, and as he showers and reflects on everything from his middle-aged body to the act of shaving to his son Luke and to the newly-finished renovations on his shop, we find that we’ve slipped easily into his life and mind, gleaning much about both his present and past from the smallest of details, with questions raised that pique curiosity and keep the pages turning. There are hints at past tragedy in Lou’s emotional state, his closeness with Luke, the absence of Luke’s mother (and the presence of Anna Denham, “their current housemate”). The short first chapter finishes with Lou reading a note left by Luke, and the ending of the note strikes at the beating heart of this carefully-scoped novella-length story:

PS: Be brave, because that’s what I have been, more brave than I’ve been before.


By carefully scoped, I mean that it somehow seems clear from this moment that this will be a story not-quite-broad-enough for a novel but much-too-much for a short story, and that the family life and relationship between Lou and his son Luke will form the central arc, even as external events and social pressures act upon them to force change.
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