24 December 2007

Xiaolu Guo, Village of Stone, 2004

Xiaolu comments in her acknowledgements for Village of Stone that it is still a long journey to carry Chinese fiction to the West. I suspect that journey is made somewhat easier if you live in the West already and work in the media, as Xiaolu does on both counts, and possibly easier still if your fiction resembles the sort of melancholy Oriental autobiography (epitomised by Memoirs of a Geisha, Falling Leaves or Wild Swans) that has been welcomed on this side of the world with open arms. This is her sixth book, but the first to be published in English.

Village of Stone is told from the perspective of a young woman’s new life in present-day Beijing, being the story of her childhood when she was known to everyone as “Little Dog”, and who grew up in the Village of Stone on the typhoon-battered coast of China. She has an unusual upbringing that is shaped half by the sea and half by an assortment of dysfunctional family and neighbourly relationships. She is on the receiving end of more than her fair share of pain, sexual abuse and misadventure, all of which sets up the direction the book ultimately takes, which is that of forgiveness, maturing emotionally and letting go of the wrongs done to her.

Initially one gets the feeling that Xiaolu is telling everything and leaving nothing unsaid with the aim of making the story a deliberately tragic one, but by the halfway mark you sense a change of tack up ahead and understand the necessity for all the open-hearted detail that has gone before. Nevertheless Xiaolu can write, and I suspect there is a strong thread of autobiography running beneath the narrative. The result doesn’t work quite as well as something like Falling Leaves largely because we know this is fiction, though Xiaolu’s often frank directness meant that by the end I found myself prepared to believe almost every word. Quietly impressive.  PY

  Village of Stone was shortlisted for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.


No comments: