In this novel Marco Polo is languishing in a Genoan prison cell telling his stories of pleasure domes and jade carvers to a scribe who listens, invents and embellishes his more interesting version.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Who wouldn't like to write like Garcia Marquez, turning reality on its head, reinterpreting history, and ignoring time itself, all in the most limpid and rich prose? Unfortunately, it's not all that easy, as this first novel by British writer Griffiths demonstrates. Griffiths' theme is intriguing, the prose intelligent, and narrative and narrator twist, turn, and surprise, but at the end it is a tribute - not a rival - to the master. Typically, nothing is quite as it seems in this genre, and though the narrator, the young Rustichello, begins his story in a prison cell he is sharing with the legendary Marco Polo, the conclusion calls this assumption into question. Rustichello offers to be Pole's ghost writer, but as he begins to write down the story of the journey to China and back, his boredom with Pole's dry version leads him to after it. He describes places and people Polo never saw, and he introduces the Failed Sage (who illustrates Eastern philosophy) in visits to a great library where knowledge is destroyed; visits to the opera, where the audience wears masks; and to a great chess-like game that seems to imitate the way the brain works and information is relayed. Marco Polo only intermittently objects to the work in progress, acknowledging that "If we strive for truth, we are bound to lie. Whereas if we set out instead to produce a fabrication. . ." He does not finish, but the implication is clear; and in philosophical commentaries and discussions with the Failed Sage, Genghis Khan, and artists, Rustichello continues this exploration of the imagined truth versus the remembered truth. It is all very clever, learned, and tiresome - as are the random insertions of telephone conversations, pages from the San Francisco telephone book, and visits to contemporary restaurants. The ending is a typical metafictional conceit in which story, narrator, and author - suddenly introduced - all turn out to be an idea still to be realized. Griffiths writes well, and the idea of an intrusive ghost-writer is promising; but there is too much cleverness, too many conjuring tricks, too little real magic here. (Kirkus Reviews)