Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Shanghai Baby and Fahrenheit Twins

Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui is a book I'd heard of, as an example of "new Chinese literature". I accidentally spotted it in the library and borrowed it on a whim. It's semi-autobiographical, according to the author. The main character and narrator, Nikki/Coco, is a young woman who has published a collection of short stories that has been both acclaimed and denounced as decadent. She meets a young man, Tian Tian, who wants her to write the great novel he is convinced she is destined to write, a novel for their generation. Nikki and Tian Tian live in a spacious flat, absorbed in their love for one another. However, Tian Tian is impotent and Nikki starts an affair with a married German named Mark, for the sex - though she later starts feeling emotionally involved too. Tian Tian becomes more introvert and starts doing drugs more seriously, as Nikki tries to finish her novel.

I'm not sorry I read this book, but I'm not quite sure I like it that much. Possibly something gets lost in the translation, so I don't feel like I really understand the motivation behind people's actions. The cover says that this is a story of "self-discovery", and Nikki talks about how she is discovering herself, but I don't really see it, to be honest. The setting and mood is interesting though, a sort of fin de siècle feeling, but with a bit more hope all in all.

Then I read Michel Faber's collection of short stories, The Fahrenheit Twins. Now again, I can't say I didn't like it... but he does have a tendency to an open-ended finish that gets a trifle annoying. In the manner of "She gazed out the window of the train as it moved across the country. She didn't know where she was headed." That sort of thing (that wasn't a quote by the way, merely an example). It bugs me a bit. Some of the stories are excellent though, and I remain very impressed by how well he can write from a woman's point of view. One of my favourites is the one about the former heroin addict who is now reaccquainting herself with her young son under the supervision of a social worker. Several of the stories remind me of Ray Bradbury, in the slightly fantastic settings and moods he evokes. Strange things happen, but we're not on Mars, we're still on Earth. I also thought of Michael Ende - I have one of his collections of short stories.

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