intense sensations

Posts Tagged ‘narrative

The Quickening MazeThe Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adam Foulds is a terrific writer. I read an article by him on how to write description and it was so brilliant that I immediately bought this novel.

I’m not going to share the article with you because if you read it you will instantly be able to write brilliant descriptions in your novels and that would give me too much competition while my own career is floundering.

Oh, all right, then. You’ve twisted my arm. You’re right. Novel writing shouldn’t be competitive. We should all help each other to be brilliant.

Adam Foulds on how to write description.

This article shows that Adam Foulds is very good at appreciating other novelists. But how good is he at writing a novel himself?

I have some reservations about that. The descriptive passages in The Quickening Maze are vivid and beautiful. The story unfolds in a series of intense vignettes.

It’s a poignant story, deeply imagined, and rendered in accurate detail.

But I sensed a lot of fear in the way it was written. The author, rather like the character who had to be tied down and given an enema, was afraid to evacuate.

Ironically, this section, when Mr Francombe was given a clyster and “wept with disappointment as an astonishing quantity of shit bloomed from him across the table,” was one of the most fluent, engaging and sustained pieces of narrative in the whole novel. I forgot for a moment that I was reading the work of a poet.

The theme of clenching occurs later. The doctor himself, Matthew Allen, is guilty of it.

“When Matthew Allen had the idea he stood up out of his chair. … His body clenched with excitement, as though gripping the thought inside him so as not to lose it.”

I think the author is also clenching. Come on, Adam! Loosen up! Don’t be afraid of showing us your shit. This approach might improve the erotic passages which, though not bad, are terribly restrained and far from arousing.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits


Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous YouthTwenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think Xiaolu Guo has a problem with narrative. That’s why she likes writing in fragments. I wonder what her films are like. It’s possible to make films without having to explain anything. In a novel, if this is a novel, you can’t really get away with that for long. Which is probably why this nearly-novel is very short.

One of the things I didn’t like is that it jumps around in time without being clear about the chronology. Just when did this little 17 year old from a sweet potato farm get her laptop and mobile phone? The references to such things as email, VCDs and DVDs are extremely confusing, especially if you have spent any time in China during the last 20 years and know what was available when.

Because of the chronological confusion, I think it does very little to illuminate life in China in recent years, although some passages, taken in isolation, are an accurate depiction of how life was at certain points in time. These isolated vignettes just don’t hang together as either a consistent narrative or as an accurate historical record.

This English version is the work of two translators, an editor, and Xiaolu Guo herself, who rewrote it after it had been translated. The result is 20 vignettes in very short sentences that are highly polished, brittle and self-conscious. Some of it is quite poetic but much of it irritated me.

View all my reviews

Books by Vanessa Wu

Lure of the Feminine

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