Posts Tagged ‘Judge Dee’
At the heart of this book is a story that involves a lot of bondage, torture, beating, sexual passion, near-nudity and paranormal phenomena.
Yes, as with so many things, the Chinese did paranormal BDSM centuries before the current craze sweeping America.
But, ironically, in this book the paranormal element is somewhat muted, which is the main reason Robert van Gulik thought it might be presentable in translation to Western readers.
I try to learn something practical from every book I read. The thing I learnt from this one is that it’s very hard to translate the Chinese word “neiyi” (undergarment), because it’s very unspecific even in Chinese.
When the suspect is stripped of all her clothes and left in only an “undergarment”, which happens on at least two separate occasions, I really want to know more. Which undergarment? Is it like a shift or is it only a pair of panties? Is it skimpy or conservative? Can you see through it?
Most readers would not want to picture the poor wretch strapped nearly naked to a mechanical device so that she can be beaten and racked. But I’m an erotic novelist. My interest is professional and dispassionate.
The end of the novel, which deals with the executions of all the wrongdoers, is much more explicit. But it’s a case of too little too late. Because of the earlier omissions, I’m afraid the text only gets 3 stars from me.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Robert Van Gulik is a fascinating man and this novel reflects many of his interests. It combines scholarly attention to detail with a flair for melodrama and the macabre. He was very knowledgeable about ancient China and took a deep interest in Chinese erotic art. This mystery story draws on ancient Chinese detective stories, of which he had made a special study, and is enlivened with many erotic allusions to tease the reader’s imagination. There are also a few action sequences featuring clever tricks and deft manoeuvres of the kind found in ancient Chinese literature such as Outlaws of the Marsh and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
It is more ambitious than it seems on the surface. If you return to the first five pages after reading it all, you will discover that what is at first a confused and confusing preface is an attempt to create a story that has no beginning and no end, just as the opening epigraph suggests:
Only Heaven that wrote the scroll of human life
Knows where its beginning is, and where its end—
If end there be.
It is, amongst other things, a ghost story, very much in the ancient Chinese tradition, and the drowned heroine of the story, to whom a monument is erected in honour of her brave and loyal actions, comes back to haunt with her seductive beauty, men who have evil in their hearts.
Unfortunately I don’t think the author’s craft matches his ambition. The novel is too crammed with incidents. The language is sometimes awkward. There is little or no character development. There is a lot going on but much of it is explained only after it has happened, which makes it difficult to become caught up in the action.
However, the Judge Dee stories, as far as I know, have no equivalent in English and I recommend them for anyone who likes exotic mysteries or is interested in China during the Ming Dynasty.
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