Lovers in the Age of Indifference – Xiaolu Guo

As you may well know by now I am a real fan of the work of Xiaolu Guo. So when I was sent an advance copy of her latest book ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ I was really, really excited. Though with the great excitement you feel a slight trepidation, well I do, when you are going to read an author who you really enjoys latest book. Will it be as good as the rest? What if I don’t like it? I am sure I am not the only one who does this with a favourite readers new work, or one you havent read before.

I wouldn’t describe Lovers in the Age of Indifference as a novel; I also wouldn’t really call it a collection of short stories either. I guess I would call it a collection of fictional works. By this I mean that we have seventeen fictional pieces some of which are so short they are more like snapshots into peoples lives, some are longer and would fall in to the short story category, not that I know the rules on how long a short story should be.

They are a collection of brilliant works, each involving very different characters but all in some ways looking at love. Not always in the cosy way that we are used to. Guo looks at love through both rose tinted spectacles in some of her characters and the eyes and minds of hardened cynics in others. We have tales of long distance romance ‘Letters to a City of Illusion and Hope’, tales of unrequited love ‘Today I Decide To Die’, tales of affairs ‘Then the Game Begins’ and tales of love that cannot be spoken ‘Into The Unknown’ really Guo has covered the whole gambit and I haven’t even mentioned them all. I should mention that everyone should read ‘An Internet Baby’ which is only eight pages long but completely shocking.

Actually having said its all about love there is one story ‘Junk Mail’ which I couldn’t see linking to love, as its about those emails we all receive about having won millions, or getting a share in someone else’s millions brilliantly told through emails. In fact ‘Beijing Morning Star’ is about how we have to edit things in our lives and in this case in a paper in order to be PC and not offend. I would say that it’s a book about modern times, modern people and modern emotions, yet the last tale Flower of Solitude reads like an old myth. I think maybe its best to simply describe it as a book of brilliance instead.

Guo is an author who will use differing forms of writing in her books. In UFO in Her Eyes the book is written in case notes and transcript interview records and 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is interspersed with images. In this book, more than in her previous books, Guo really goes to town with writing styles. Some as I mention are told through emails, some through letters, some simply in first or third person, one short story is told in time sequence another by alternate narrators, making it a heady experience for the reader. One tale that I think shows the brilliance of Guo and her writing is called ‘The Third Tree’ and is told through thirty pages of text messages. Now when I saw this I didn’t think it would work, however I got completely involved in the tale and even felt the emotional punch at the end. Utter genius. Again it’s also a very insightful look at modern love in our society today now we have this technology.

This is another wonderful book by Guo, she hasn’t failed me yet and I only have one more book of hers to go. I think this is my favourite since ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ maybe because like that it’s a quirky and unique look at love in modern eyes. If you haven’t read Guo before then you really must and if you have read her then you have to read this one too. Oh and if you are a fan you might just want to pop back tomorrow, or just come back for a quirky post. I originally read this towards the very beginning of the year but have been holding out posting it waiting for a little special something to be sorted, more on that tomorrow. Until then I will hand over to you, what are your thoughts on Guo, have you read this or been wanting to? Which works have you tried, or have you not tried any quite yet?


Filed under Books of 2010, Chatto & Windus, Review, Short Stories, Vintage Books, Xiaolu Guo

23 responses to “Lovers in the Age of Indifference – Xiaolu Guo

  1. Oooh – thanks for reminding me that this has come out. As you know I like Guo too.

  2. I haven’t read any Guo but A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers was on my radar; I didn’t realise she had written a number of books.

    The vignette style of this one and the experiment with different written forms and methods of communication intrigue me. You’ve definitely piqued my interest, Simon :).

    • Thanks Claire. I am a big fan of Guo every book she has written has been in such unusual styles and differing forms and yet all have a certain quality about them thats slightly similar so if you like one you tend to like them all. This is a really interesting collection, and is another set of shirt fiction that is seeing me change my mind about shorter stories.

  3. I’ve only read Fragments and was very slightly underwhelmed by it. It was the fact that she re-wrote bits of it for the paperback translation some years after originally writing it, made me wonder if it had been even fresher before.

    However, I do now have the CC-E DfLs (concise! Hee, Hee) … on my TBR pile, and the fact that she experiments with writing styles makes her interesting, and I like that.

    • I like Fragments though I wouldnt say it was my favourite and its actually a reworking of her debut novel, I think some debuts are not always as good as the books that follow and with all novels since (I have not read Village of Stone) the writing has grown and grown, well in my humble opinion.

  4. I want to read the Dictionary for Lovers book very badly- it was featured on my Rosie’s Riveters series and now that book is high on my to-be-acquired list. It sounds lovely, as does this one.

  5. Elena

    Oh! So excited to see this post. I have wanted to read A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers for awhile and this post reminded me that it should move up on the TBR list. Iloved your line that it is ‘a quirky and unique look at love in modern eyes’. I think I need to read a book like that right now.

    I’m excited to delve in to the rest of her works too. Thanks for such a raving review.

    • Do definitley bump it higher up the TBR Elena as its a little gem of a book… well I think they all are really. I am intrigued to know what comes next as Guo’s work has been so varied so far.

  6. I’ve never read any of her books before. And to tell the truth, I haven’t been feeling too encouraged about starting. But I think you’ve done a great job in promoting her work to me. =)

    Would you suggest I start with this book? Or with A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers?

    • I would say maybe start with this one, well A Concise… is also a good place to start but some people have a bad reaction to the second half as you cansee from Mee’s thoughts below. One of these two is possibly the best place to start though I would say.

  7. mee

    I’ve read A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. I loved the first half, but almost detested the second half. I’m willing to try more of her works though. I have UFO in Her Eyes at home. And Lovers in the Age sounds fantastic!

    • Oh no detested is a bit strong hahahaha. I have to say some of the last half of that book si quite dark and some of its a little hard to read but still I thought it was a very accomplished piece of work. Lovers is great, so is UFO though.

  8. Pingback: Savidge Reads Grills… Xiaolu Guo « Savidge Reads

  9. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Village of Stone, one of the best novels I’ve ever enjoyed. I recently acquired copies of both Fragments and Concise on the strength of reading Village alone. I have yet to read them but am glad to hear your ringing endorsement. I will move them up the tbr pile.

    • Village of Stone seems to be the least known one in this country. I am wondering if there is a reason for that. It is one that I most definitley want to read but think will leave until 2011 as otherwise I will have none of her books to read in the future (also I dont currently own a copy and am not allowed to buy books).

  10. I liked ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ more than I did her previous, ‘Ufo in Her Eyes’. It brought me back memories of ‘A Concise Chinese-…’ and somehow of ‘Village of Stone’. Though it was only a 9 month span between reading ‘Ufo…’ and ‘Lovers…’ I can’t wait to get myhands on a new Xiaolu Guo novel.

    • I agree that Lovers in the Age of Indifference is one of her best works, but then I think that all of her work is rather wonderful. I haven’t rad village of stone and its one book I now really, really want to read. I think I might hold off though because I wont have any more of her books to go after that.

  11. JoV

    Man, if I ‘m going to be a writer, I think I want to write like her. Forget about killing trees by writing long novels. Short, punchy, quirky, funny, ingenuous, get the balance right between frivolous and seriousness, and you get a winner..

    if you say it’s her best work, I just got to go get it!

  12. cateaway

    Just finished A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. It’s just funny at the beginning. I like her thought and tenderness towards love. After reading your blog, I think I’ll read Lovers in The Age of Indifference.

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