An Yu | Braised pork

A debut novel from a young contemporary Chinese author, writing in English. A huge five-way auction ensued apparently, publishers seeing this as a must-have. Hmm…

A mixed bag for me. Despite my aversion to magical realism, the sudden shifts into the alternate reality of the ‘water world’ were well done and well paced, each incident building on the last – genuinely unsettling and hallucinatory.

But there’s a lot of filler, in terms of events and characters. So much stuff that adds nothing to the narrative or atmosphere or character development. In such a short book, this isn’t good.

My biggest beef (sorry) was the lack of sense of place. I have never been to China or Tibet – the action is located mainly in Beijing, with an interlude in a rural Tibetan village – and came away with no sense of what these places are like. Not good enough. I want specific sensory detail, so I know how the streets of Beijing are, all the smells, sounds, sights. I had no sense of ‘being there’ at all.

Added to this, the characters were 2D, the prose clunky, and the pace erratic. The story had a lot of potential but didn’t land. Only the image of the bottomless water-world and the mysterious fish-man lingered.