There are many reasons to mock Shanghai Baby - the irritatingly self-obsessed and clearly autobiographical protagonist, the clumsy translation, the unsexy sex scenes. But the most eye-rollingly awful thing about the book is that it exists in a world where everyone cares about your novel. That is, all the characters care deeply about the protagonist's novel, and as the protagonist is clearly Wei Hui, I can only assume that everyone in her real life cared deeply about this novel as she was writing it.
Perhaps the other characters in the novel have fascinating stories. Perhaps they breed exotic birds or practice martial arts; as readers we don't know, because protagonist Coco is too self-obsessed to make more than a passing mention to the other people in her life. Every character exists only to support and inspire Coco's writing. Her boyfriend Tian Tian encourages her to quit her waitressing job so that she can live in his house and write her novel full-time. Tian Tian does not have a job or dreams or ambitions of his own, because he exists only to help Coco write. Tian Tian spends his days cooking dinner for Coco, clearing up after Coco, and ensuring the house is kept quiet and stress-free for Coco; all so that she can write.
Everyone Coco meets seems to be deeply impressed that she published a book of short stories that no one has read. I have also published several short stories that very few people have read, but this does not seem to endear me to strangers; probably because I don't choose to open conversations with this snippet of information. Coco does not need to worry about this because whenever she is introduced to a stranger, someone conveniently informs the stranger that Coco is a writer. They are very impressed, of course, and ask all about her novel-in-progress, listening intently to her sighs over her terribly misunderstood art.
At times I doubted my own mind - was I just missing the point? Was this a wonderful piece of metafiction, rather than self-obsessed whining? I'm never averse to the possibility that I just don't get a piece of writing. Shanghai Baby is metafiction in that it constantly draws attention to the fact within the fiction - ie. the novel that Coco is writing is the novel that Wei Hui is writing, which is the novel that you, the reader, are currently reading. However, the novel does not actually do anything with this artifice. It seems to be nothing more than a masturbatory device to allow Wei Hui (or rather, Coco) to quote herself - later parts of the novel directly quote earlier parts, for no apparent reason except to allow us a second chance to appreciate the sheer genius of the prose.
I am a fan of fantasy stories. I like to be transported to a different world when reading fiction, and I am quite happy to suspend my disbelief as far as necessary. But a world where everyone you meet arranges their entire lives around your unwritten novel? That's just too far away from reality.