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It felt contrived
on 21 August 2012
This novel seemed an appropriate choice to follow on after my last read My Favourite Wife as it is also set in Shanghai and has a surprisingly similar theme, except this time seen from a Chinese girl's point of view. Causing something of a stir when it was first published in China it has been translated into English by Bruce Humes, this autobiographical novel does feel contrived, but this may be just caused by the difficulties in translating. If I had not already a little understanding of the lifestyle of a concubine I am sure I would have found this novel even harder to read than I did. I found it very interesting to compare with the last novel as the same sort of situations arose, the background of Shanghai was familiar and the descriptions of the city bring it alive. A female perspective about a society that is still undergoing great changes. Coco our heroine was not a character I took to as she came across as extremely egotistical.
The storyline is very simple, the protagonist Coco as she calls herself, has despite not completing her education dreams of becoming a writer. She lives with her boyfriend Tian, Tain, a strange young man, unemployed, a drug addict and unable to consummate their sexual relationship. It is no surprise really then that not satisfied with the platonic love he provides that she has a fervent affair with Mark, a married German. Why an earth did her boyfriend put up with this behaviour when it seemed so obvious to us the reader that she was still with him thanks to a personal allowance he had, a relationship of convenience. The love triangle created is hopeless with Tian Tian sinking fast from his drug abuse and Mark has a wife and daughter to consider. This young Asian woman seems to want both love and sex but sadly not necessarily from the same man.
In conclusion as literature this did not entertain me at all and I do not think my age was a factor, however from the cultural aspect I found it interesting enough. I think you can guess from my comments that I preferred My Favourite Wife and of the two that is the one I would direct you to if you do not want to read both.