intense sensations

Frivolous, lewd and funny

Posted on: September 5, 2011

Tower for the Summer HeatTower for the Summer Heat by Yu Li
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yu Li is a very famous erotic author in China. His most famous novel, called The Carnal Prayer Mat, has just been made into a completely over-the-top 3D flesh feast called Sex and Zen and, from the trailers on YouTube, the movie looks hilarious. Those Hong Kong movie makers really know how to choreograph action sequences.

The humour of Yu Li is much more sophisticated, let me assure you, and, though there is nudity a-plenty, it is very decorously described.

I will come to The Carnal Prayer Mat another day. For now let me just give you a taste of Yu Li’s summer tower, originally published in China in the seventeenth century.

These stories are very fresh and delicate. The humour is refined and won’t appeal to everyone. They have a tongue-in-cheek moral tone. For example, Yu Li, who is very learned and well-read, defends his subject matter thus:

“How can anyone deny that the frivolity of sex supports a serious endeavour and that its lewdness is at least not inconsistent with propriety?”

It’s a fine philosophical point, isn’t it? Unfortunately, not many modern readers want moral philosophy with their porn, so I must, I’m afraid, withhold a star.

The sex when it comes is as frivolous and as lewd as you could wish, though, as I said, somewhat decorously expressed, with flowers and essences substituting for the coarser expressions so many of us prefer.

The first story ends with a moral, which is that women should never be naked, not even in private. How seriously you take this moral is up to you. I think it is beautifully expressed and has an exquisite irony but I am sure there are many naked women out there who would take it literally and either throw up their hands in rebellion or else cover themselves up in shame.

Irony, for this reason, is one of the most dangerous weapons an author can deploy, and should be used only by an expert. Yu Li, fortunately is a black belt in the art of irony and it’s for this reason that his work has not only survived, but retained a luminous clarity, free of the patina of time even in this somewhat academic translation.

I would love to tell you about all the stories, one by one, but I haven’t finished telling you about the first one yet so, may I politely suggest that you read them for yourselves? At least you don’t have to learn Chinese.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits

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