The Fat Years
Author: Chan Koonchung; translated from Chinese by Michael S. Duke
Two years in the future, in China, things are afoot. A month has been forgotten. Luckily we are protagonised by Old Chen, one of those writers who doesn't write. And he ends up trying to solve the mystery, not because he is becoming the hard-boiled detective he thinks of himself as, but because he’s after some woman he had a semi for years ago. He is joined by his much more admirable acquaintance, Fang Caodi, one of the very few people who remember those 28 days, sort of.
Old Chen is a real dick. He’s always cutting people off when they’re telling their tales and having to dab his eyes because he’s feeling weepy. Anyway, it all works out for him and he finds the girl and declares his love in this disgusting sequence that gets played out on a blog with all the “Netizens” cheering them on. I think the story was trying to be savvy but the characters were a short walk apart at the time and no one anywhere spends hours doing this;
“I suffer from clinical depression,’ she wrote.
‘I know. I’ll take care of you,’ he fired back.
‘My body is decrepit beyond repair.’
‘I’m proof of your beauty.’
Oh no, I have just told you all the story up to the epilogue and things that are on the back of the cover haven’t even happened yet. They need to KIDNAP a high-ranking official and force him to REVEAL ALL so they can ROCK THE WORLD; lucky for you the epilogue is huge, taking up nearly a third of the pages in this enthralling “notorious thriller.”
The drama is fleshed out drastically with countless monologues from Old Chen and the other fairly unrelated characters, which apart from a few insights into Chinese modern history are a real fucking chore to read. Pages upon pages detailing fictional political strategies or just informing us how very well China is doing in this new age (so so great, they now own everything and you can get lychee-flavoured drinks at Starbucks).
All these musings appear to be the point of this book and of course got it banned in China for being too real. According to the surrounding commentary, this vision of the near future is kind of happening. I enjoyed the contrast with other dystopian fantasies; instead of Big Brother there was a perfectly reasonable sounding five-point plan outlined by the Communist party.
This novel is translated from Chinese but not into English. At least not good English. You expect small Chinese-isms like everyone being referred to as “Big sister” or “Uncle”, but a lot of it came across very lacklustre and weak. Also without warning the book flits between first, third and - on a couple of occasions - second person. It’s just weird, and it’s not meant to be.
In the ‘translators note’, Michael Duke attempts to justify the lengthy epilogue/monologue that makes up the core of the book; “Some readers may regard this as tedious... they would be mistaken.” So yeah. Shit book. Maybe if you’re interested enough in China to have read all this review, just go on our unpoliced internet sites and read about Tiananmen Square or something.