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Book of the Month June 2020 (or whenever!) - 《景恒街》 by 笛安

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biyalan

I’m halfway through chapter 2 now, and I have to say I’m liking it a lot. It moves along quite quickly, and there isn’t lots of description of scenery or anything, which I usually find much more challenging to read. There are some pithy quotes as well - just came across this one:

 

“钢铁侠并不是严格意义上的工作狂——他只不过是发自内心地讨厌私

人生活。”

 

Now that I’m into the story, I’m a bit more hopeful that I’ll be able to read it in a timely manner. Great pick! 

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Lu

I just finished chapter 5, in which we learn more about 关景恒's background...

 

Spoiler

...which is pretty humble. He was an average guy in a small town, decent grades, and then he discovered he was a pretty good singer and became locally famous for it. But he wanted something bigger for himself than just another small-town life, so he went to university in Beijing. Where, it turns out, his small-town fame counted for absolutely nothing and he had to start all over again. This was poignant, I thought: had he stayed in his small town, he would have ended up a 'peaked in highschool' guy who ten, twenty years later would still try to coast on the glory days of his youth, so leaving was the right choice, but it still threw him for a loop.

 

What 关景恒 really wants is to be someone else, and that someone else is famous. I'm not quite sure yet what the rest of that other life would look like.

 

His and 小潘's app idea is approved, MJ Capital will invest, but only if 关景恒 basically kicks 小潘 out of the company. He does so. Then he takes 灵境· on a date, and he really does like her, it turns out. They kiss, 灵境 breaks up with Tony, but 关景恒 doesn't want to really be in a relationship with her just yet, partly because of the trouble his company would get in and partly because he is still unsatisfied with who he is.

 

I hope this doesn't turn into just a love story with pithy remarks now. I suppose I should just trust Di An, and also we have over 200 pages to go, so there's probably more coming.

 

@biyalan 'Pithy' is the perfect description of those remarks!

 

@murrayjames I thought of your remark when that thing happened with the coffee maker! Pretty sure that it is, in fact, not okay and the saga continues.

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murrayjames

In Chapter 6...

 

Spoiler

 

...we learn that the coffee maker works! 钢铁侠 offers to make 灵境 and 文娟 Americanos and espressos, though they’d rather drink lattes. My comment: assuming high-quality beans, the right temperature of water, and care not to over extract, espresso is the correct choice.

 

Also in the chapter: 朱灵境 and 关景恒 now know each other in the biblical sense. In a business meeting at MJ HQ, 关景恒 introduces an attractive newcomer as his girlfriend, much to the shock and surprise of 灵境 and 小潘.

 

 

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murrayjames

Chapter 7

 

Spoiler

 

小潘 assures 灵境 that 关景恒 and his new nominal girlfriend (幽幽) are just friends. In response, 灵境 hides in her bedroom under a quilt.

 

小潘 leaves for London for three months. 幽幽 says she and 关景恒 are no longer dating. 粉叠 recruits a popular cosplayer. Programmers in Beijing are underpaid. 关景恒 helps 灵境 look for her car.

 

 

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Lu

Chapter 6:

Spoiler

Told out of order, for maximum surprising reveal value: shortly before MJ Capital agrees to fund 粉叠, 关景恒 finds out that Iron man is sleeping with Lingjing or wants to. 朱灵镜 comes to 关景恒's home/office (a 160 m2 one-room open space, 'designed for people who didn't care about all kinds of daily needs but felt a burning desire to play badminton in their living space'), admires the place and sleeps with him, as flash-forwarded in the prologue. But then, at the dinner where MJ announces they'll fund 粉叠, 关景恒 presents a hitherto-unknown woman as his girlfriend. 灵境 is shocked (as is 小潘), and the two don't see or contact each other for three months, until one day she comes to find 小潘 with a good excuse and sees & greets 关景恒. He is still in love with her and it kills him that he doesn't see her or hear from her.

 

The twists in this chapter I thought were so-so, but I still enjoy the pithy and witty writing. For my own reading convenience, I wish the chapters were a few pages shorter, because now they are just a little on the long side to read one chapter per sitting. Or maybe it's good for me, because now I force myself to read a little bit more per sitting than I otherwise would.

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murrayjames

Chapters 8–10

 

Spoiler

 

灵境 witnesses 小雅’s alcoholic husband shouting at and striking her boss in an underground parking garage. 灵境 threatens to call the cops and eventually the husband flees. 灵境, 小雅, and 文娟 bond over drinks at the 小潘 residence.

 

The cosplayer music album project is a huge hit. 粉叠 becomes an overnight success, and 关总 a very rich man.

 

孟舵 holds a big birthday party and everyone attends. 灵境 gets drunk and is surreptitiously whisked home by 关景恒. People at MJ notice, and ask 灵境 what’s up between her and 关景恒. 钢铁侠 reassigns 灵境 to a project where she will not be romantically involved with the CEO her company has invested in. Turns out 钢铁侠 and 小雅 have a secret relationship of their own, and 灵境 knows about it.

 

潘垣 finds out his 粉叠 shares were drastically reduced by his partner and supposed friend 关景恒. 小潘 returns to Beijing, incredulous and pissed off. 灵境 is caught in the middle between her landlord, lover, and employer.

 

Unfortunately, there is not much coffee in these three chapters. The book is starting to feel like a soap opera.

 

 

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Lu

Chapter 7:

Spoiler

朱灵镜 is pretty heart-broken over 关景恒. 小潘 tells her the 'girlfriend' was just a hired classmate, 幽幽, but that only makes her feel worse: it means 关景恒 especially hired her to send a message to 灵境. 粉叠 has a new director, 韦明江. The company has made a viral video featuring 小潘, and attracted starlet 白千寻 who is willing to do a promotion campaign together. 灵境 is forced to still interact with 关景恒, but manages to keep it together. He is also heartbroken. At the end of the chapter, they are together alone in a parking garage.

 

Let's hope they get together again because this is stupid.

 

I liked the trajectory of 白千寻's rise to stardom. 'Dropped out of a Korean training program', that's just so extremely contemporary. The insights in fan culture are also interesting, how 小雅 describes how getting people to vote for your favourite used to be a matter of coordinated effort and is now a matter of spending money. And I admire all the ideas that 笛安 has put in this book, from the idea of the 粉叠 app to the various promotion campaign plans. I'm a total 外行 but it looks realistic to me, which is important in such books and yet difficult to achieve, because if an idea is good enough to look realistic, someone usually already thought of actually making it.

 

@murrayjames

Spoiler

Yah and those underpaid programmers, and 小雅 laughing in the 'interns'' face when she hears they work for free. Wow, the bare-faced exploitation.

 

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Lu

Chapter 8:

Spoiler

In chronological order, which is not the order it's told in: On the eve of the release of 白千寻's 粉叠 exclusive, 关景恒 sends everyone home to get a good night's sleep, and because he has a visitor. The visitor is... not 朱灵镜, but 白千寻, who offers to buy 粉叠 for 65 million yuan. 关景恒 turns him down, saying that tomorrow, after the release of the exclusive album, the company will be worth a thousand times as much. But it seems to me that 关景恒 is making an enemy here, not a good idea for his platform.

 

Early the next morning, 灵境 happens upon 小雅 in the parking garage of MJ's office building, trying to fend off her husband who is trying to drag her back into the car. 灵境 and 文娟 interfere and manage to deliver 小雅, who tells them she left her abusive and negligent husband four days ago (and he only just found out). After work, the three of them retire to 灵境's home to drink wine. I like the sisterhood they feel and how they can discuss their personal lives with each other and enjoy each other's company. At the same time, I wonder if it's wise to form such friendships with one's boss. Just after midnight, 小雅 borrows 灵境's phone to call 关景恒 to ask how the album release is going.

 

The release is going spectacularly well. But both 灵境 and 关景恒 are sad about what isn't happening between them.

 

Also I wonder if the major new fan who bought 30,000 copies of the album isn't 白千寻 himself, who will use this leverage to somehow harm 粉叠 after 关景恒 turned down his offer.

 

@murrayjames I still feel it's more sitcom than soap opera. For one thing it has a lot more humour than most soap operas.

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Lu

Chapter 9:

Spoiler

At Valentine's Day, everyone (except 文娟, who has a date) gathers at 孟舵主's home for his birthday party. 朱灵镜 spots 关景恒 and promply proceeds to 1) hide and 2) get drunk. 关景恒 sees Iron Man look at 小雅 jealously and realises Iron Man is not, in fact, chasing 灵境 which means he himself can date her. He finds her, drunk, in the courtyard (where they also overhear Iron Man attempting to kiss 小雅), takes her to her home, puts her in her bed and then lies down beside her. They are both very happy about this but they really need to talk tomorrow morning so they can start with their happily ever after. However, we're only halfway through the book so there are probably some more roadblocks ahead.

 

I found this chapter a little boring: not much happens, although I enjoyed the jokes.

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Lu

Chapter 10 (I am still reading when I have time and other things don't get in the way):

Spoiler

The next morning, 朱灵镜 finds not 关景恒 but 小潘, who has flown over immediately when he realised he has been cheated out of most of his share of 粉叠. Together, they piece together that 关景恒 has pushed him out very sneakily over the course of months (after he promised Iron Man he'd push out 小潘). The people at MJ are pleased and amused. 灵境 is very angry at 关景恒, goes to find him and tells him so. Neither of them know what to do now, because they still love each other but now another obstacle has gotten in the way, just as they had cleared the previous one.

Yah okay this is getting a little soapy now. Still enjoyable enough though.

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Lu

Chapter 11 - the return of Chekov's coffee machine:

Spoiler

We learn Iron Man's backstory. He and his girlfriend-then-wife studied well, moved to the US, found good jobs, but while she was happy and fulfilled, he wasn't. When he lost his job because of the 2008 financial crisis, his old teacher 孟舵主 approached him to set up MJ together. He agrees, then tells his wife, who is livid -- and also pregnant, and who a few weeks later has a miscarriage. She now refuses to divorce him because she feels he ruined her chances of a happy life. It's a very sad backstory.

 

朱灵镜 is transferred to another department because she's involved with 关景恒. 文娟 finds this so unfair, what with Iron Man and 小雅 getting it on too. She found out because of the way the new coffee machine was delivered to Iron Man's office.

 

孟舵主 wants to pull out of 粉叠 because of 关景恒's behavior to 小潘. If he betrays his old friend like this, he can easily betray us too, he reasons, and also he went off with a drunk 灵境 at our office party. Iron Man and Shelley disagree and bring in 关景恒, who pleads for his company very eloquently: What about my employees, who gave everything for this opportunity? And also I'm serious about 灵境 and I'll prove it. He walks back, runs into 朱灵镜 at the elevator and promptly proposes to her. After some hesitation ('We've only been dating for three days!') she agrees.

 

Less tension than in the beginning, but still enjoyable. Always difficult to keep a story going once the original objective (灵境 gets her man, 关景恒 gets his company off the ground) has been achieved.

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Lu

Chapter 12:

Spoiler

朱灵镜 and 关景恒 have married (just like that!), but there is no time for a party or a honeymoon. 朱灵镜 is very busy in her new position and is away on business trips a lot. 关景恒 is of course also very busy and they only see each other at bedtime, basically. They never talk about 粉叠. 关景恒 does a television interview that didn't go well? it seems? but we don't hear any more about it. 韦明江 contacts 灵境 to ask her to ask 关景恒 to let him keep his position, but she doesn't know how to broach the subject and doesn't. He is pushed out of Beijing to go lead the Shanghai branch.

 

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Lu

Chapter 13:

Spoiler

A nice description of the 粉蝶 app and its power users, the 蓝粉叠. 朱灵镜 goes to pick up some papers at her old home/小潘's home and there meets 幽幽. (幽幽 is angry at her but I forgot why. The dangers of reading too slowly.) 幽幽 tells her that she did sleep with 关景恒 for a few months, after first pretending to be his girlfriend. Those few months were when 关景恒 was secretly pushing out 小潘. 灵境 is shocked (and again I kind of forgot why: during that period, they were officially very much not a couple, so 景恒 would have been free to sleep with whomever, I'd say. I'd understand her being miffed because he never told her, but shocked?). She and 关景恒 eat out, for his birthday. Later he confesses... that he mortgaged his house.

 

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Lu

I'm going to stop spoiler-tagging, I don't think anyone minds? If so, let me know and I'll edit them in. The page starts to look a bit dreary with all those tags.

 

So, chapter 14. 关景恒 is plotting a new plot: with a pile of money, he lures one of the superfans away from his chosen idol, 白千寻, to go work as superfan for a completely different star, a young actress who is so new you can barely call her up-and-coming yet.  It seems 关景恒 makes this move in order to normalise superfans switching idols, and he hopes this will make 粉叠 a lot of money in a year or so. I'm not sure if it's indeed a smart business decision or mostly intended to piss off 白千寻 who once tried to buy the company from under him.

 

朱灵镜 has found a cute snowman game that she wants her new department to back. Her new department, the gaming department led by 冯斟 Féng Zhēn, is in dire need of a success: if 冯斟 doesn't produce something good soon, he will be fired.

 

小雅 is pregnant. 关景恒's shocked reaction: 'Who with?' His right-hand woman: What do you care, it's not like it's yours?

(It must be Iron Man's, but apparently 小雅 still plays happy family with her actual husband. The one who hits her.)

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murrayjames

Made it to Chapter 13.

 

As @Lu noted, we have a coffee-related plot point in Chapter 11. How exciting! It turns out that 钢铁侠’s new coffeemaker was a gift from 小雅, not a business purchase. Later in the chapter, 文娟 and 灵境 order lattes from the coffeeshop downstairs, though 问卷 would prefer an Americano.

 

Also in Chapter 11, 关景恒 proposes to 灵境. 灵境 says yes, and they wed. By early in Chapter 13, though, there are signs of choppy marital water ahead.

 

I liked the opening of Chapter 13. Discussing the 粉叠 APP from a user’s perspective was a refreshing change, the sort of thing you see in a good movie.

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Lu

Chapter 15:

关景恒 flies to Shanghai to talk to 大韦 to get 大韦's support for his decisions. 大韦 reluctantly agrees.

关景恒 is still working very hard and doesn't really talk with 朱灵镜. He talks about successes, but never about failures. She is still being a supportive wife, doesn't question him and believes in him. (Meanwhile she is working on her own project with the snowman game, but that's not really relevant in this chapter.)

Iron Man meets with 关景恒 in an almost-empty bar to tell him he (Jingheng) is to step down as CEO in favour of 大韦, this is not a negotiation, I'm just telling you so you don't lose face in the board meeting tomorrow. Alright then, 关景恒 says, if you let 灵境 speak for me as shareholder. Iron Man agrees.

The two talk a bit more, Iron Man reveals his wife is finally agreeing to a divorce in order to marry his former best friend, 徐承天. This is also the man whose company failed in chapter 1 when MJ/Iron Man denied further funding in a very similar conversation. Iron Man commiserates with 关景恒 a bit: you never know who's going to betray you... 为什么你睡了我的老婆,为什么你拿走了我的公司 and I found that hilarious because both these things are also applicable to Jingheng and Iron Man but I'm not sure Iron Man knows Jingheng knows Iron Man used to sleep with Lingjing. Before he took away Jingheng's company.

A waiter suddenly steps up to the microphone and starts to sing, not too well. 关景恒 can't resist and steps up to do the song justice. He feels good about this. But don't you think this is what he really should be doing, he silently tells Iron Man.

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Lu

Chapter 16:

The whole situation is sad. 朱灵镜's snowman game is not a big hit, but it's doing alright. 灵境 does her very best to encourage 关景恒, who still goes to the office every day but after work goes drinking with 蓝粉叠 and comes home late. And really she enjoys her evenings alone. Things are not well.

On the day before Christmas, the shareholders/owners of 粉叠 meet to discuss selling the company, or actually for what price they should sell. Again, sad. Then, a protest/sabotage action emerges: 白千寻 has rallied his fans to extract the money from their 粉叠 accounts. Panic, this is bad. 大韦 calls the engineers to immediately disable the money functions: Come to the office, now, 快,十五分钟,别开车,坐地铁。So very Beijing.

But! Meanwhile 关景恒 is having a sort of goodbye dinner with his faithful 蓝粉叠, and the minute they hear about the money extraction they, too, spring into action and call on all their followers to put money into their 粉叠 accounts. Together with the engineers, they save the day.

At the office, 灵境 realises 幽幽 was a spy for the opposition, she leaked to 白千寻 that the board meeting was today so he could coordinate his action.

 

All in all, a fun chapter with some excitement after a sad start.

 

Important word that looks unimportant:

提现 tíxiàn to extract money, to withdraw funds.

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roddy

Read the first chapter of this so far - it's ok, probably not something I'd pick up off the shelf, but an easy read and I'm determined to finish at least a couple more of my early-lockdown book-buying spree. 

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Lu

Alright, I finished it. The very last bit of dialogue was nicely done, two dialogues mirrored, almost like a poem.

 

Chapter 17:

Spoiler

关景恒 wants 朱灵镜 to help him convince Iron Man to help 景恒 keep some control over 粉叠, or blackmail him with a recording of that sentence of their meeting, where Iron Man talks about people sleeping with other people's wives and taking their companies. 灵境 is furious with him: does he love her or just himself & his company?

 

MJ Investments treats all their employees to a week at the beach. 灵境 is depressed and stays in her room -- until one morning, when she meets 小雅 at a balcony. When 小雅's controlling husband comes to confront her for sleeping with Iron Man, 灵境 saves the day through a heroic rescue action, in which she pretends she is the one who was sleeping with Iron Man, and also quits her job.

 

Back in Beijing, 关景恒 basically stalks her in order to win her back and/or get the recording back -- and then he is hit by a car.

 

And the epilogue:

Spoiler

朱灵镜 and 关景恒 are still together. He has lost his entire company while in hospital; she is doing well in her new job. It's unclear whether she still loves him or stays with him out of obligation. Iron Man is growing old alone and occasionally meets with Lingjing to gossip. Xiaoya is having another baby and stays with her controlling husband because of the moneyed life he provides her with.

 

All in all, this was an alright read. Fun to see some of the inner workings of the startup culture. All the romances that got any attention (Zhu Lingjing and Guan Jingheng; Iron Man and his wife; Iron man and Xiaoya; Xiaoya and her husband) were problematic in their own way and the various ways they were problematic were explored, so a love novel in a way, but not a romance novel. (We hardly hear anything about Wenjuan's love life, so I'm going to assume it's happy and boring.) I enjoyed the funny and pithy observations, though it seems there were a lot more of those in the first half than in the second.

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roddy

Playing catch up here, just finished Chapter 7. It's decent fun, I liked the reference to Calvin and the insight into the fan culture. I think it's maybe a good mid-level novel - it's not very simple and straightforward vocab, but nor is it peppered with obscurities. 

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