I always get excited at the prospect of a Savidge Reads Grills as I love getting to know authors better. It makes it even more exciting when its an author that you adore and today I have the pleasure of bringing you an interview with the wonderful Xiaolu Guo. If you havent read any of her work then I cannot recommend them enough, pop to yesterdays post to see how much I enjoyed her latest novel Lovers in the Age of Indifference. Anyway on with the grilling.
Savidge Reads is already a huge fan of your work but for those readers out there who may not have read one of your books how would your describe them and where would you say they should start?
Well, it is no good to do self recommendation I guess, but you know, every book has it’s own reader with its own accidental chance, you may pick a book from me in a corner bookshop, and that is something, we say in chinese – yuan fen, an accidental destiny. I can say that I like some of my novels: A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers, and 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth for example…but you cannot say that. I always prefer the next one which I am writing….
Where does the inspiration for your books and your characters come from?
Life, life, and life. other’s life, self life, life’s life.
All your novels tend to have quite kooky female lead characters and yet these women are quite alienated characters too, why is that?
That’s how humans are in this world nowadays….of course, from my point of view. You don’t need to have the same vision like mine.
Though some of the contents of your books are quite hard hitting, for example rape in A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers, or the poverty and future of China in UFO in Her Eyes, there is also a lot of dark and wry humour, is that intentional in your writing?
Not intentional but natual I would say. It is almost unconcious I would say. Or I can say these stories are so much in my bones, they presented my visions of this world, me and the story are together, there are not much separation in between.
Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
No. Very casual and sometimes rather painful to sit down to write. My problem as a writer is that I don’t like writing, really don’t like the mear act of writing, it is an act of anti body. I prefer do anything other than writing if I can…
You also make films; do these two occupations work well together? If you had to choose one occupation which would it be?
I like doing films. I don’t think one has to choose one thing. Filmmakings and writings, I like both in a sense that they can provide me very different method via different vision-story, I think film media is great, modern and complicated – that is the charm and power of the visual world when you actually comes from the word-world, the literature world….
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?
Very young… my early teenager days. It is not a question of easy or difficult, it is a matter of if one finds the beauty of the literature or not.
So what is next for Xiaolu Guo? You have a new book out in January, what are you working on after that?
A short story collection Lovers in the Age of Indifference just came out in english, which is a book I like very much. 17 stories on lovers’ relations. I am now working on – of course, some new ideas….
Which books and authors inspired you to write? Who do you love to read at the moment?
Too many, and at different stages some books have different importance to me. For example I used to be very much in love with Duras, Modiano, the french literature from 60s and 70s, lately I loved Boris Vian’s novel The Foam Of Daze, and recently a kind of russian literature, for the similar communist background… Sometimes I prefer to not read english literature just because the fact we are too much living in a english speaking world. But when I was younger I loved beat poets and perhaps I still do.
Which other Asian authors would you recommend people MUST run out and buy right now this second, well once they have finished reading this?
That is not my style, I don’t urge people read it is their choices. But I do like chinese writer Zhu Wen, he is very cool, and deep.
A huge thank you to Xiaolu for taking the time to participate in a Savidge Reads Grills you can see more of them with other authors and my Gran here. You can also find out even more about Xiaolu Guo by visiting her website www.guoxiaolu.com
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?
Last year I did a post on the books that I was looking forward to in 2009. This year I thought, along with my new slightly though not very much more minimal TBR, I would go with a more simplistic look at books I am looking forward to, rather than what might just be a big book everyone reads because its ‘the big book’ though if some of these are ‘the big book’ thats wonderful. I am just not sure if I will obtain or read them with this no buying malarkey (already its slightly vexing me and we are on day five) but you can run out and get them you lucky so and so’s. I digress. They might be big hits they might not, I am just really, really excited about these particular forthcoming books in 2010…
First up is women’s fiction and I am incredibly excited about one of my favourite authors (who is also a lovely lady) who is bringing what looks to be a wonderful Byzantine epic of a novel about an ‘actress, empress, whore’. It also happens to have what I already think is one of the most delightful book covers of 2010. I am talking about the delightful Stella Duffy and her latest novel ‘Theodora’. Its one of the books I am very excited about. Other female novelists who have big literary books out I am looking forward to are… Andrea Levy with ‘The Long Song’ which is all about the last years of slavery in Jamaica, I am hoping this leaves me as breathless as ‘Small Island’ which blew me away last year. Xiaolu Guo with ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which I think is a brilliant title and sounds like it could be a collection of tales rather than a novel.
Women also seem to be writing the crime I like the look of this year and I want to read more crime even if it’s not the latest releases ba-humbug this year. Sophie Hannah brings us her latest crime escapade with the intriguingly titled ‘A Room Swept White’. This alredy sounds like it will be another of Hannah’s brilliantly twisting plots as a TV producer is given a card sender anonymous with sixteen digits on it, and soon a woman the producer is making a documentary about is found dead with an identical card in her pocket even down to the sixteen digits. Susan Hill’s enigmatic detective Simon Serrailler is back for his fifth outing looking at the murders of prostitutes in ‘The Shadows in the Street’s’. Finally in crime due out in autumn, which means if by luck one falls out of the sky and lands on my doorstep it’s still a long blooming wait, is another of the books I am most excited about… ‘Started Early, Took The Dog’ is the fourth instalment of my favourite series of books ever featuring Jackson Brodie by Kate Atkinson. The bonus with it being so late in the year is it won’t lead me into temptation and can go on a Christmas list of be bought in January 2011.
Now for the men of fiction. I think another of the biggest releases for me this year will be the latest Ian McEwan. I am a big fan and though no synopses are currently floating about regarding the plot of ‘Solar’ I have heard it is his ‘eco’ book so this could be very interesting. Other books to look out for are the latest Chris Cleave ‘After the End of the World’ which isn’t about an apocalypse and is in fact about a child with leukaemia. With the follow up to the Bronte brilliance of ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ Jude Morgan takes us to Regency times with ‘A Little Folly’. Carlos Ruiz Zafon releases the gothic sounding ‘The Prince of Mist’ which I am looking forward to, though I do still need to read ‘The Angels Game’ hem, hem. Another big book for 2010 looks to be the new Yann Martel book ‘Beatrice & Virgil’ all about a taxidermist.
Debut wise a book I already own though wont be reading till just before it comes out is Natasha Solomon’s ‘Mr Roseblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman’ which from the synopsis sounds hilarious. It’s all about a man trying to become the perfect English Gent. A debut I don’t own but would love to is ‘Advice for Strays’ by Justine Kilkerr all about Marnie whose father and cat (along with all the local cats) disappear and something seems to be following her, something dark an intriguing tale of loss. Erm I think that’s it… I am not going to do non fiction as I am rubbish in that area. Seriously, I know I have said I will read more but as I am not buying I haven’t been looking, so there.
Oh how could I forget. The re-release of the year for me will of course be Nancy Mitford’s ‘Highland Fling’ even if it wont be until 2011 till I can read it anything by Nancy Mitford is wonderful and must be celebrated so I am thrilled Capuchin Classics are re-publishing that. I also have everything crossed, which is becoming quite painful, for The Bloomsbury Group to release another series of books – preferably a selection that features another Joyce Dennys or three that I can lust after! That’s it for now, that’s officially all the books I am most excited about this year today.
What are you looking forward to?
Filed under Andrea Levy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Chris Cleave, Ian McEwan, Joyce Dennys, Jude Morgan, Kate Atkinson, Nancy Mitford, Natasha Solomons, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Xiaolu Guo, Yann Martel
I have been a big fan of Xiaolu Guo ever since I first read ‘A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers’ back in the early days of book blogging. I fell in love with the heroine and her thoughts on the UK from a Chinese girl who has never travelled. This was then repeated when I read ’20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth’, actually Guo’s first book rewritten, and I fell in love with the heroine as she takes us through Beijing and the world of the movie and film industry. This latest book had passed me buy until I saw it in the library.
UFO in Her Eyes is another look at life in the countryside of China and though set in the not to distant future of 2012 it seems to look at Guo thoughts on the way China is changing and what happens to the small villages where over 700 million peasants live and work. This isn’t a dull or lecturing book, but mainly it’s told with a rye knowing smile. It’s not a light book though and has a statement and looks at the situation and is in part saddening and thought provoking too.
Kwok Yun is a peasant living on the edges of Silver Hill Village when one day she witnesses a flying disc in the sky “a UFThing” she then finds a foreignerin the rice fields and shadows of the craft with blue eyes and yellow hair in a field who she looks after. Once these things are discovered by the villagers and then Chinese intelligence from Beijing armed with questions who interrogate the town. Kwok slowly becomes an instant celebrity and the town becomes famous. Soon what was once a small peasant village becomes a tourist attraction gaining chains of shops, a leisure centre (on top of a peasants fields without asking) and a huge statue in honour of the UFO and all of the villagers lives are changed though not for the better as you might think.
Once again Guo has created a wonderful female lead in Kwok, even if everyone really thinks she is a man. Though we don’t see too much of Kwok all in all as we meet a host of villagers who share the limelight. Guo has written some brilliant bad tempered and comical villagers such as the noodle man who only cooks you what he wants you to eat, the Butcher who starts to relive his days as a Parasite Eradication Hero and the leader of the town Chief Chang who wants to ‘demolish the weak demolish the rotten’.
Like with her books before it’s the bluntness and honesty that comes through Guo’s writing that I love, she doesn’t hold back is witty and says things like she sees them. I also love how with Guo’s work she uses different mediums for fiction. In ‘A Concise Chinese English Dictionary’ it was diary entries and letters. In ’20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth’ pictures are interspersed along with occasional pieces of script dialogue. In this case, as I briefly mentioned before, we have files, emails, interviews, meeting notes from village gatherings and plans of the future city. Yet still without giving you just straightforward prose every crazy villager comes to life as do some of their motives and how dictators are born.
I thought this book was marvellous and Guo is certainly becoming one of my favourite authors. I am now very excited about ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which is out in January and am expecting to be another gem. I haven noticed I haven’t read any Chinese or Japanese literature for a while and am wondering where and who to head to next. Where indeed?
I absolutely loved ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ by Xiaolu Guo and so when ‘20 Fragments of Ravenous Youth’ arrived it went straight up to the top of my TBR. I was hoping that I would find the writing both touching and comical and that the protagonist would be again someone I enjoyed following the journey of and Guo delivered one hundred per cent.
‘So I was the 6787th person in Beijing wanting to act in the film and TV industry. There were 6786 young and beautiful, or ugly and old people before me trying to get a role. I felt the competition, but compared with 1.6 billion people in China, 6786 was only the population of my village. I felt an urge to conquer this new village.’ So Fenfang introduces us to her life in Beijing as a young woman searching for work, love and herself at the same time.
We follow her as she moves from place to place, man to man and random job to random job. I loved the descriptions of the parts she played such as ‘woman waiting on a bridge’ or ‘woman who says nothing in a café’. This is where I think Guo is just superb in writing her characters, in very few words she can conjure up a people by what they say, for example ‘oh heavenly bastard in the sky’ being on of the most common thing to come from the mouth of Fenfang. It conjures up a character very quickly that tries hard but is very much aware of how hard life can be.
Indeed Beijing life is what this book is mostly about though featuring the TV world that Guo has so much experience in. Reading the afterword I found out this was actually the first book Guo wrote, she has now gone back and rewritten it as it was ten years ago and she didn’t agree with everything the original heroine was saying. For a debut novel, even if reworked some what, it is a great set of twenty snap shots of a young life in Beijing dealing with the hardships as well as the great sides. I loved the fact Fenfang particularly loved living in the area full of pirate DVD’s and books regardless of all the cockroaches, the pro’s outweighing the cons. One scene involving Fenfang swallowing a cockroach and her doctor being completely unsympathetic and saying she wouldn’t die made me feel slightly ill and laugh in abundance at once.
All the other characters are very secondary in the novel, no one else features heavily and you don’t find out masses about the people she interacts with just short concise paragraphs that tell you all you need to know. For example, one of her boyfriends who shares a room with his whole family… and a dog that uses their bed as a toilet. Can you imagine sharing a room with your partner’s whole family? The book is as it says simply 20 fragments of Fenfang’s life in Beijing and its cultures. I found it fascinating, funny and in places unsettling. I think Guo is undoubtedly one of the best new writers around and everyone should give this ago, just don’t expect ‘a concise history’ part two, I think that’s why people have said its not as good, I think it’s a sign Guo isn’t a one trick pony.
I know from reading reviews that people have either loved of loathed this book there don’t seem to be many reviews where people simply aren’t bothered. I am in the love category. Xiaolu Guo wrote this novel after herself first coming to England. She found that her language was inconsistent and that she would make people laugh, sometimes at here rather than against her, and decided that this would make a great story. She was right. From the opening line ‘sorry for my english’ to the final page I was completely hooked.
The story is of Zhuang, or ‘Z’ as she likes to be called, who arrives in London to spend a year learning English and you also get the feeling that she is here to be free from the constraints of her parents and to find more of herself. The book chronicles her times mainly in England but also as she takes a trip around Europe. It also chronicles the man she meets who remains nameless throughout the novel and the affair that they embark on, one which isn’t very healthy, she becomes very dependent on someone who is quite cold.
I loved this book for the lead character of ‘Z’, I also loved how it looked at the linguistics of English and both poked fun at us and at tourists who come in from other parts of the world. I also found I laughed out loud at several different intervals like when Z confuses a vibrator with an electric toothbrush, when she first finds out that her lover is actually a bisexual, whilst also being wholeheartedly disturbed by the incident when she is one her travels in Europe and the reaction from her lover when she comes back.
Z is a great heroine as she isn’t perfect, I always like someone to have a flaw it makes them more real, she needs love in a new strange place that hasn’t turned out to be quite what you would expect and sadly finds the wrong man, she also doesn’t seem interested in friends which I found unusual. Does she find a happy ending? Read the book, it comes highly recommended from me. Xiaolu Guo is a name that I think we should definately be looking out for in the future, I have just been spending a while on Amazon mulling over buying her new Hardback ’20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth’ I dont like hardbacks, but it is very, very tempting.