In her fourth slim novel about the surreal and complicated city of Ravicka, Gladman (Prose Architectures, 2017, etc.) unfurls the meditative story of a city official searching for a lost house.
Jakobi, the Comptroller of Ravicka, is searching for a house that is somehow lost in order to confirm the location of a house that is invisible. Despite all Jakobi's measurements and calculations, No. 96 remains unfindable, disrupting Jakobi’s life and self-esteem. The lost house becomes a frustrating wound on Jakobi’s sense of reality, an aberration even for an official who monitors the locations of buildings in a city where the migration of buildings is an accepted fact. Jakobi’s search feels both urgent and meandering. The tantalizing mystery of how and why a building might be lost seems to be less of an engine for plot and more of a doorway constructed to allow the reader to pass through to a contemplation of the surreal concepts and images of the Ravickian world. Narrative logic and momentum give way to a spacious creation of ideas, sometimes expressed in vivid images and sometimes in didactic explanation of imagined facts. Jakobi is sometimes a man and sometimes a woman; an old acquaintance seizes control of the narration and then gets folded up and put away in a pocket; an unnamed person who lives in the invisible No. 32 claims the entire second part of the novel to reflect on the history of Ravicka’s invisible architecture. These fantastical details add up in a way that might have more in common with performance or installation art than with the expectations brought on by the assumption of a story.
A reader would be wise to enter Ravicka without hungering to know what happens next but looking forward to a perambulation through a gallery of beautiful images.