Both from a year in Beijing, and from an extremely long blog hiatus. I swore I’d close this blog once and for all, but it seems I can’t help but come back… again, and again, and again.
It’s awful to say it, but I hardly read anything at all during my time in China. It was mostly due to the fact that I’d be returning to Sydney after a year, and so I didn’t want to accumulate a heavy (and therefore ridiculously expensive) stack of books in addition to all my other superfluous luggage (hello, faux Mulberry bag collection!). I think I was also just so excited about learning the language and travelling and experiencing the place . For me those eleven months were so precious, and short and sweet that I didn’t want to spend that time doing things I could do back home.
And so I did read some great stuff in Chinese (with almost constant reference to my dictionary) and even some novels in my mother tongue, Korean, (which I probably should be better at) but it’s been a while since I’ve picked up any English novels. In my time away from ‘the world’, I’ve missed out on the new English translation of Murakami’s 1Q84 (which I read a bit of in Mandarin – weird experience, that) and the next instalment of Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy, River of Smoke, which I’m currently delving into.
I’m not sure if it’s I’ve wired my brain into reading Chinese characters, or just that I haven’t read a complete novel in such a long time and my attention span has somehow shortened, but I’m really having trouble immersing myself in River of Smoke. On the other hand, it might be mediocre editing and the fact that sequels, and anything that follows, will normally disappoint. It’s just a lot slower than Sea of Poppies; almost no plot at all, and too much of everything else. Also – a search across the seas for a mythical specimen of golden camellia? Really? I’ll have to wait until the third instalment before I make any final judgements, but right now I’m skeptical about where this is heading. In fact, it’s looking a lot like Pirates of the Carribbean, all that search for lost treasures and opium and convicts. But in Canton. So I suppose it’s Pirates of Canton.
Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room on the other hand, is really, really lovely. Every sentence has been so carefully constructed; every image, and metaphor and turn of phrase just the right amount of delicate. It comes close to being a little whacky and pretentious in some places, but Mawer always controls the language so tightly that he doesn’t often veer off track. Also the premise and the characters, flawed and cold as they are, are just so wonderful. Der Glasraum. There is something a little sterile and chilling about this book, but that’s probably how Mawer intended it to be… This is my second time reading it, and I do remember it going downhill towards the end – in some strange directions, but so far it’s a delectable read.
I have an ever growing stack of unread books to get through, and there’s the Booker shortlist to sort through as well, so there’s lots to be said and read over the next week!