Of the "Six Records of a Floating Life", only four survive. These, entitled "The Joys of the Marriage Chamber", "The Pleasures of Leisure", "The Sorrows of Misfortune" and "The Delights of Roaming Afar", treat the author's life thematically - each chapter covers the same life, but from a different viewpoint, so that significant events are seen from several different angles. Shen Fu's love for his wife Chen Yün is a memorable part of the book, but their relationship is a complex one: she becomes obsessed with a young concubine Han-yüan, whom she engages as a concubine apparently for her husband's behalf but, Shen Fu hints, also so that the two women can be together. Chen Yün's death from a mysterious illness hangs over the four records, creating a sense of melancholy. But there is far more than just the story of Shen Fu and Chen Yün's love and marriage to delight the reader - Shen Fu's disgressions on flower arranging and interior decoration on a (sometimes very) limited budget in "The Pleasures of Leisure" were nothing short of life-enhancing! Likewise, the descriptions of his journeying with friends to spend the day in monastery gardens, only to have the day spoiled by fellow visitors' noisy insensitivity are a joy to read.
Shen Fu's life was not one of noticeable worldly success and he is modest and self-effacing in the telling of it, but his technique of writing his life story from different thematic viewpoints allows us to see a delicately nuanced humanity which makes rivetting reading.