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Book of the Whenever: October 2020: 异兽志


roddy
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4 hours ago, roddy said:

Anyone else still reading

 

I am, though shamefully behind, started late and still in Ch.2.  I nearly dropped in Ch.1 thinking it was going to turn into sloshy romance, but then realised it was really rather creepy. It is much better than I expected, well written and quite original, and creepy reading is very appropriate in October.

 

Agree fully with the comments on the language, I'm finding it quite easy to read, the vocabulary is fairly straightforward.  I purchased the e-book in 豆瓣 but got it converted and now am reading it on the Kindle app in the iPad, infinitely better than the actual Kindle and than Douban´s reader. So I am cheating rather a lot clicking with the unknown-forgotten characters.

 

People shouldn't be put off when starting to read it. The literary passages serve only as a short introduction to the chapter, but the bulk of the text is colloquial and quite accessible. It may have some Szechuanese influence, has anyone noticed?

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I would like to join your book club once my level is decent enough (i know,  imron says HSK 6 only gets you halfway ...well, and I'm not even there yet). So just wanted to say that even though i can't participate yet, I really enjoy your posts - you've given me some ideas for what to read once i can actually move away from graded readers : )

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Excellent, do keep an eye on what we're doing. 草鞋湾 is probably the best starting point of the ones we've read recently, but you'll know that. 

 

Back to the book: 痴心兽 - I loved this for the demonstrations and the family in peril, but felt like I was failing to follow the plot, perhaps partially as I read it in chunks and not always in quiet places. Didn't quite get how her tutor and her mother fitted in to things - or maybe they don't, who knows. 

Quote

整个城市从未如此井井有条,所有的人都喊着同一个口号,恐惧着同一个恐惧

and

Quote

闹市区人来人往,无数陌生的人和我擦身而过,我们彼此都是对方的疯子

That whole sense of a world gone scared and mad...

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千里兽: The 千里兽 can see things a thousand miles away and know things a thousand years in the future. Unfortunately, they have gone extinct. But now, an archaeologist has discovered some 千里兽 remains, interestingly they are only some 60 years old, so apparently they haven't been extinct for that long yet? 我 never gets to meet with the archaeologist, but she does meet his very attractive (though in a 娘娘腔 way) assistant.

 

What I didn't fully understand:

Spoiler

江炭 was in love with the archaeologist and therefore told him about the secret underground 千里兽 village. But why did the archaeologist die? And why did 导师 die? I now wonder if 导师 was the same person as the archaeologist 蔡冲, it fits the story 江炭's mother tells about 江炭 who tried to warn 蔡冲, who in turn tried to warn the woman he loved. But 钟亮 says that 导师 met with 蔡冲, not that he is 蔡冲... right? And that still doesn't really explain why 导师 died, or was that really just an accident?

...Perhaps I should read the story again.

 

A few words:

弱冠 ruòguàn   a young man of about 20; to be abouot 20 years old

而立 érlì   to be about 30 years old

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I usually find that most things are resolved if I read the last page very, very carefully, but in this case I think I missed a clue somewhere in the middle. You don't know either, by any chance?

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痴心兽: Some twenty years ago, a scientist - the 导师, actually - invented a new 兽: the 痴心兽. They are expensive, but every child should have one, because you keep them for five years and in that time they help your children grow up with a loving heart and good grades. So 我姐姐 gets one for little 路佳. Meanwhile, demonstrations and unrest are breaking out in southern countries, and the 头头们 of 永安 sincerely hope it doesn't spread to 永安.

 

On 10/18/2020 at 9:00 AM, roddy said:

Didn't quite get how her tutor and her mother fitted in to things - or maybe they don't, who knows.

Spoiler

我's mother died in a fire in the 荣华兽 nunnery where 我 spent part of her youth. Mother was the only casualty, but the authorities also found that she had already died of other causes when the fire happened. 我 was then taken in by the mother of her 姐姐 (so that's their relationship). 导师 made the first 痴心兽 in the image of 我, but now I'm not sure how it fits together either. 导师 must have known mother & 我. Perhaps he caused the fire? Not sure if we should have understood that already?

 

Mother died on the same day that the star 林宝 killed herself, probably as a result of her affair with tycoon 钟奎, who is the father of 钟亮, who was a student of 导师. But I don't think mother = 林宝, because surely then she wouldn't have had two different newspaper articles about her death.

 

The whole way those demonstrations were handled (sacrifice a few innocents, it's worth it to preserve our 文明 city!) and how the people reacted (they'll forget all the bad stuff soon enough!)... That can't not be about Tian'anmen, can it.

 

It was very, very chilling how the 头头们 were just going to have all the people in the airport killed. I was so relieved when 路佳 & family walked into the house, even though the rest of the people were still getting killed.

 

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I'm still behind in my reading, but am really enjoying this book. I'm on Chapter 4, thinking wouldn't it be nice if a kind 穷途兽 moved in here to take care of the house and do the cooking. Obviously I haven't reached the horror twist in this chapter.

 

Chapter 2 reminded me of Lu Xun's 抗人日记 ("Diary of a Madman" ),I don't think this was a complete coincidence, but also don't think Yan Ge intended anything more than superficial similarity. Chapter 3 was very gloomy and depressive, grotesquely so in parts, but had a superb sting in the tail - - - I saw some of it coming but not all.

 

I'm still finding the language easy to read but some sentences and paragraphs definitely need reading twice, though it is much easier than the book I abandoned before starting this one.

Looking forward to a creepy end to Chapter 4.

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英年兽: The 英年兽 usually don't live very long, they die at around thirty. They have rather big litters of often more than five pups, but most of the pups die. They are said to be descended from death row prisoners. They keep to themselves and their traditions, but are quite sought-after as security guards because they are big, strong and loyal. 我 is writing a story (with 钟亮's help) about the love between such a 英年兽 and a human woman. Is it a true story?

Spoiler

If I understood this correctly, 我 is in fact half monster (not really surprising at this point, the question was rather which monster) and so was her 导师. The story 我 writes is the story of her mother and her father, the 兽 who left them when mother got pregnant. Mother tells 我 about her background, then says that she should keep far away from anyone who knows about her background... and promptly dies in a fire. 导师 was the son of 老雷 and 老雷 killed him with the car accident, because that's what parents and children 英年兽 do: they kill each other or be killed.

 I feel I'm missing more and more small things (and also reading this book too slowly so I forgot the small hints from a few chapters ago). I think this book might just be a bit too difficult for leisurely reading for me, even when I pay close attention.

 

7 hours ago, Luxi said:

Chapter 2 reminded me of Lu Xun's 狂人日记 ("Diary of a Madman" ),I don't think this was a complete coincidence, but also don't think Yan Ge intended anything more than superficial similarity.

Spoiler

Interesting comparison! With the difference that in this tale, it's the children that are eaten.

 

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There's an English translation coming out next month, for anyone who wants it. [edit: although if you want to support the teeny-tiny publisher and don't mind paying a little more, order from here, which I've just done. I shall absolutely definitely read it, I super-promise.]

 

I'm just about finished the second last chapter. Might not finish it all this month, but won't be far off. Really enjoyed that sequence of the beast / shopkeeper protection racket story and 种亮 and the author love-hating each other. 

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来归兽: the interstitial bit gave away the reveal at the end, that was not very smart layouting I think! The 来归兽 live under the earth, where the dead people are. It's rare a person spots one. But 我 and 钟亮 see one when they are drinking in the Dolphin Bar one day. They go after it, but... 我 is doing badly, 钟亮 is taking care of her. We also learn more about 钟亮's own background and his relationship to 导师.

 

I suddenly realised what Yan Ge's style reminds me of: Hilary Mantel. That same very sparse, very compact way of writing, won't use six characters when two will do, not a sentence too many, big events can happen in the space of half a sentence so you have to pay close attention if you don't want to miss anything.

 

9 hours ago, roddy said:

Really enjoyed that sequence of the beast / shopkeeper protection racket story

I liked how Yan switched to a really different writing style for that bit, much less sparse and 文言-y, more florid, fit for a magazine.

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18 hours ago, Lu said:

very sparse, very compact way of writing, won't use six characters when two will do, not a sentence too many

 

Yes!  Just by chance a mooc on ancient Chinese novels I´m sort of following starts with the 山海劲 (Classic of Mountains and Seas). It's not a novel but it is a bestiary, China's first recorded bestiary and geography treatise. Have a look at this passage:

 

Quote

南山經之首曰䧿山。其首曰招搖之山,臨于西海之上,多桂,多金玉。有草焉,其狀如韭而青花,其名曰祝餘,食之不飢。有木焉,其狀如穀而黑理,其花四照,其名曰迷穀,佩之不迷。有獸焉,其狀如禺而白耳,伏行人走,其名曰狌狌,食之善走。麗𪊨之水出焉,而西流注于海,其中多育沛,佩之無瘕疾。

 

Looks like Yan Ge is quite inspired by this Classic. I too noticed the occasional changes in style that you mention, when she goes into a much more 'normal' narrative with all the necessary 'filler words'. There's one in Chapter 4 when 我 tells 钟越 how she escaped the laboratory and started writing. 

 

A few more links for the 山海劲:

https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&res=247611
https://www.wdl.org/en/item/4447/#contributors=Jiang%2C+Yinggao

and some of its beasts:

山海经 - Bing images

 

 

 

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59 minutes ago, Luxi said:

山海劲 (Classic of Mountains and Seas). It's not a novel but it is a bestiary, China's first recorded bestiary and geography treatise.

That's what the classical example was! I was thinking of the dynastic histories with all their 张三,蜀人也 etc, but of course a bestiary is much closer. Very cool.

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Okay, I finished the last two chapters as well. They clear up a few more things, such as the background of 我's mother.

 

The things that happen in the first story about the zoo happen before the rest of all the monster stories and as I read it, the second zoo story happened before the first, with the garbagewoman in the second story becoming the zoo keeper (and the companion of the 景兽) in the first one, even though from what happens to the zoo itself one would think story 2 happens after story 1. But perhaps the zoo is built and demolished in a never-ending cycle, who knows.

 

I'm considering whether I should read the English translation once it comes out to find out all the information I missed, or just leaving it be because the story was just a bit too mysterious for my taste.

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Chapter 5 starts in peaceful, mellow moods. I still can't tell whether it will develop into another horrific finale, but as it proceeds, it's becoming riddled with hints, almost spoilers.

 

ETA this :

 

Spoiler

 

Zhu Huai and 我 are watching a tv series, and this happens:

 

广告一弹,出来的却是钟仁,胡子拉碴,神色憔悴,他在电视上说:“你去哪里了,你快回来,我有很多事情要告诉你,请你和我结婚吧。”

 

What's Zhong Ren doing here? Is Yan Ge giving the plot away so early into the novel? Or playing games with the readers?

 

 

 钟仁 (Zhong Ren) : name of an actor,  very good looking and therefore very popular.

 

(Marginal to this topic) I found out there is another "Bestiary" in the pipeline, this one written in English by a Taiwanese-American 华人, K-Ming Chang. It looks really interesting:

Bestiary: A Novel: Amazon.co.uk: Chang, K-Ming: 9780593230534: Books

 

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