How to love, western style
Posted August 7, 2011on:
My boyfriend (who is English and reads the Guardian) gave me this book. My flatmate (who is Chinese and reads Grazia) borrowed it without asking. That’s the trouble with talking to your flatmate about books. This week she’s gone off to Austria with my copy of Candy (by Mian Mian) because I made the mistake of telling her how much I was enjoying it.
Back to this one by Xiaolu Guo. I avoided it for a while because it’s written in bad English. My boyfriend found this cute but it’s not good for me. I am very imitative and when I read bad English I start writing it. When I did start reading it, I read a chapter aloud to my flatmate and we were both in hysterics. When I looked for it next it was gone.
In my flatmate’s absence, I raided her room and retrieved it so now I have finished it and can write a review.
It’s about a Chinese woman (called Z) who comes to England and has a romance with an English man (who reads the Guardian). As their relationship develops, her English improves, she learns how to be naked, have sex all day, use a condom, and, most importantly, because of the nature of an English man’s love, to masturbate. She also learns that love means different things in Chinese and English, which is true. English people say they love each other when they mean they are fond of each other. Chinese people would rather not say it but instead demonstrate it through a lifetime of devotion.
The narrative is a bit disjointed but original. It takes the form of a notebook containing entries on words Z is learning. The bad English (which improves) is not always quite how we Chinese write English but it is often close. Some of the notes on language are very insightful. I disagreed with some of them and sometimes Z’s innocence struck a false note, becoming merely a rhetorical device.
The ending is moving. Maybe it will make you cry.