Posts Tagged ‘love’
I don’t care what anyone says, you don’t get to be a literary giant just by writing short sentences shorn of adjectives. There has to be something else there beating beneath the surface of your words. Something that you can only acquire through painful experience. Something you learn the hard way.
Frederic Henry, the hero in this novel, has the swagger. The war, he tells us, had nothing to do with him and was no more dangerous than in the movies. He has the machismo. He knew he didn’t love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her.
Then he acquires the experience.
Gradually we discover that the hard shell of his pared down vocabulary conceals a deep, intense, heartfelt, shattering, unsustainable emotion.
Then maybe we cry and we supply the adjectives Hemingway and Henry refused to give us.
A Farewell to Arms is for me Hemingway’s most perfect novel because it tells the story without any mannerisms or distractions. It is like one of his short stories, only longer. And it makes me cry with a minimum of adjectives.
I’m not sure if the title, Captain Sun, is a deliberate reference to the James Bond novel, Colonel Sun, written by Kinglsey Amis and published under the pseudonym of Robert Markham. There is something distinctly literary in the author’s style, so it might be. She seems to have read widely and to have a quirky sense of humour.
Her quirkiness is evident in the structure of this strange tale, which is arse about face, as they say here in London. It opens with a slightly shocking sex scene. There is very little build up. It appears to me to be quite cold and almost brutal.
Then there are some descriptive passages in which we learn more about the situation of the young woman and her relationship to the lecherous Captain Sun. We are given, right at the end of the story, a very specific date, which places it at a time in China when essential foodstuffs were still very strictly rationed.
The suggestion is that the woman allows Captain Sun to do as he pleases with her in return for food coupons so that she can feed her family. But it’s a little more complex than this. Sex too is “rationed” and the young woman seems to enjoy allowing herself to be abused by the captain.
I found the final paragraphs incredibly erotic and they made me want to read the whole story again from the beginning. That’s why I’m giving it 5 stars.
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.