This is a remarkable book that should draw instant comparisons to Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler for how it breaks traditional narrative in a way that explores the relationship between reader and text. The narrator of the novel sets out at the beginning to craft a travelogue about his stay on a fictitious, fabulistic island. The inhabitants of the island adhere to their own cultural norms, which bear little resemblance to those of the rest of the world. For example, their language, and the characters used to write it, are ever evolving (almost daily), so that meaning itself is a fluid thing. This fact is important later in the novel, when it switches from travelogue (descriptions of the island and its inhabitants) to a sharing of stories from the island's lone book. This book contains the only text on the island, and like the native language, it is constantly changing, successive readers altering the stories contained within, composing tangents (contained in pockets attached to the part of the text on which they elaborate), and blotting out any passage they don't particularly like. In addition, if a word is smudged (which often happens, as the islanders build their homes with walls of falling water through which they must often pass), no attempt is made to repair the text, and even the smudge becomes as important a part of the new, resulting story as any of the words that are still legible. The whole novel is filled with similar concepts, exploring the idea of mutability, perhaps exposing the flaws in the traditional, blind belief in concreteness.
The only reason I didn't give this novel 5 stars was because it didn't quite engage me, as a story, as completely as Ajvaz's The Other City, or in the same way as other, similarly postmodern works. Also, in some of the more conceptual moments, when the philosophy behind the novel is being explained, I think the translation could have been, if not clearer, then more flowing, in a way that would maintain the narrative pace instead of pulling the reader, just slightly, from its current. A fantastic book that I'd recommend to anyone. I can only hope that more of Ajvaz's works will appear in translation.