Venturing into exotic literary landscapes

I’m not used to reading anthologies or literature handbooks. I soon end up frustrated to have just a glimpse at many books without being able to assess the writing, the plot, the characters. You really have to trust the person who selected the pieces. My latest venture into that field was a hit-and-miss experience, but at least opened to me new territories and offered a few reading suggestions.

First, I read a book by Francis Lacassin called Mythologie du fantastique, les rivages de la nuit (Mythology of fantasy literature, the shores of the night, unavailable in English I guess), which attempted to draw a picture of the most influential novels and authors writing fantasy books. The book was not really convincing, because it never really got to define what fantasy novels are about. So, it meandered from Ann Radcliffe to Frankenstein, from vampires to Asian ghosts, without any method or order, sometimes describing plots, sometimes telling the author’s life story, sometimes making psychoanalytical comments on the author’s inspiration. The only good thing about that book is that it reminded me of books I’ve always meant to get to, like Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, or Maupassant’s tales. I’ve also learnt about Lafcadio Hearn, a pretty intriguing writer of the 19C who was born English-Greek and later traveled the world and became a Japanese citizen. He apparently wrote down many Japanese ghost stories and I’m very interested to read them.

Then, I read a very interesting short book about contemporary Chinese literature : “Petit précis à l’usage de l’amateur de littérature chinoise contemporaine” (Short handbook for the contemporary Chinese literature lover, unavailable in English) by Noël Dutrait, one of the very few French specialist of that subject and a translator as well. As I lived in China for several years, I’ve read Chinese novels without the chance to be picky. As long as it was translated, I tried it. So I never got down to understanding currents and schools of literature. Many names in this handbook were familiar to me, mostly writers from the 1980s and 1990s: Mo Yan, Han Shaogong, A Cheng, Su Tong, Nobel-prize winner Gao Xingjian. The names of the few scandalous female writers from the early 2000s were also mentioned: Wei Hui’s Shanghai Baby and Mian Mian’s Chinese Candy are semi-banned books in China for featuring sex, drugs, and urban post-adolescent weariness, but I’ve never gotten beyond the first pages. Being banned attracts a lot of attention from the local and international media and their commercial success has a lot more to do with this than literary worth. Reading this handbook made me eager to read new Chinese novels. I have a Ma Jian’s novella somewhere in my TBR pile, but what about new Chinese authors? Do you know of any?

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