Mo Yan

No, it’s not a piece of George Dubya Bush street-slang (as in ‘Yo Blair’) but the pen name of one of the leading Chinese authors whose novel, ‘Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out’ is one of the books we’re due to discuss in a couple of weeks on the creative writing MA course.

It was pretty hard to get hold of and I prevaricated for a while because Amazon offered me some bizarre buying options — either about £50 for a copy sent from somewhere in the UK or a more reasonable price if it was shipped from the US. (They didn’t have the book in stock nor gave a date when they expected it to be.) Waterstones didn’t have it either — whose website I try to support in preference to the Amazon behemoth, so long as it’s competitive and has the book in stock. (Unfortunately the Waterstone’s site has had more technical problems in my experience than almost any other web-site I’ve recently used — I had a short twitter exchange with the agent Carole Blake about this.)

But I took the risk in ordering it for about £10 from the US (the risk being that it might take so long to arrive that we’d already have had the discussion) and today it arrived. It took a fortnight to come across the Atlantic, which isn’t too bad considering the shipping was about £2.75.

I knew nothing about Mo Yan until I read the book jacket and then looked him up on Wikipedia (for some reason I thought he was a woman). The book itself is apparently in a magical realist genre — something Kirstan Hawkins, one of the City course alumni who spoke to us, uses in her novel. It’s a big thick hardback of about 540 pages but I was sobered to read that Mo Yan (not his real name — it means ‘Don’t Speak’) wrote it in 43 days. In case anyone reading is impressed by my ability to read a Chinese book of that length then I must sadly point out that it’s a translation and the 540 pages apparently correspond to 500,000 Chinese characters (interesting to equate that with our word count concept).

I shall blog further once I get into reading the book — it seems to have quite a clever premise — but first I need to turn my attention for next Monday to Winifred Watson’s ‘Miss Petigrew Lives For A Day’. (This is a book written in the 1930s, which is about as far away in style from our last novel, Martin Amis’s ‘The Information’,  as it’s possible to get. (It was adapted into a film a couple of years ago with Amy Adams who’s another actress who looks like my imagination’s version of one of my characters — Sally who will probably turn up in ‘The Angel’ but is a principal character in ‘Burying Bad News’).