Calvino's Invisible Cities
is more a chronicle of linked prose poetry than it is a novel. Marco Polo, the Scheherazadean narrator, tells Kublai Khan about the fifty-five (is it really only that many?) of impossibly imaginative cities which he has encountered along his travels. Whether cities of the dead, or continuous cities, or what-have-you, every city has some element of the paradoxical, or the impossible and irrational. This Borgesian labyrinth of falsity mixed with truth is gripping. And though each city is a lie, each city, too, holds a kernel of some deeper truth about life - and isn't that what literature is all about? Truth through falsity?
And our lives are expanded through falsities and half-truths and unknowables. Every person we meet, every thing we see, everything we hear, expands our consciousness and adds value to our lives. It's how we compile these sensory experiences that defines our lives, that makes a "heaven out of hell, or a hell out of heaven," so to speak. Perspective is the flavor of life and no two people have the same tastes. But can we have more tastes than one? I suspect a good novelist can taste life through a number of different perspectives than their own, which makes fiction so appealing to us, every book a new flavor, a new perspective: getting closer to that singular truth.
For Marco Polo, the singular truth at the heart of Invisible Cities
is the one city which he really knows, which he really loves, which to him is everything: Venice. At one and the same time, he seems to know everything about Venice, yet seems also to be doggedly search for the heart of it; has it firmly in his grasp, yet is ceaselessly losing it:
“Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased," Polo said. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”
Perhaps he is losing it piece by piece because city by imaginary city he is uncovering it. The mystery which remained for him in Venice, which he hoped to preserve, he loses little by little in getting at the truth of the illusory metropolises of his mind. When you escape into a good book, the world falls away from you, you are transported, but when you return the world is not quite the way it was before: there is a different color to the sunlight, a different touch to your bedsheets, a different feel of the wind at your back on a hot summer day. Something is added to your appreciation of the world you live in: but maybe not - maybe it is that something is taken away, some barrier torn down, some dust wiped away, which makes your vision clearer.