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Old 14th Nov 2006, 0:10   #31
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Default Re: Book 28 - The Harmony Silk Factory - Tash Aw

It wasn’t the symbolism what drew me to this book. While it is there, I don’t think it is a book of ideas and symbols, not primarily. There is a scene in the book when Peter prepares his birthday party in the jungle; he puts all his heart into tidying and decorating the place, but when he brings Johnny to show it to him, he’s suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that everything looks shabby and ridiculous. Only when he sees the admiration on the face of his friend, the magic seems to come back. And this is, I think, my impression of this book – that it needs the eye of a sympathising reader to show its charm. I don’t mean by this anything like lowering the standards – only that there are books that conquer the reader instantly, others that one feels like fighting or disputing with (I quite like this kind ), and this one is slightly withdrawing with the first cold glance.

I don’t know how the book would bear rereading, because, I admit it, I was really intrigued by the question who really was Jasper's father. He speaks with certainty about it, but almost as soon as Snow’s narrative begins, it turns out that his parents had in fact a white marriage. I liked the atmosphere of suppressed sensuality that seemed to surround all the main characters, and caused them to notice all the gestures and touches. Unlike Col, I liked Snow – which rather surprises me, because usually I like heroines who are more active. And there is also something like the subconcious fascination with death about her – I mean the fact that she is drawn to men who committed murder (and other “death connections”: sex under a frangipani tree - the Tree of Death, death at childbirth...) Quite chilling.

The main theme was for me not the mystery of East, but loss of the innocence – which I’m afraid sounds clichéd too when I’m putting it like that, but didn’t felt so.

The strength of this book is its subtlety, but I felt there were some slips. For example the scene with the transvestite prostitute – as if the author didn’t trust the reader to notice Peter’s ambiguous sexuality without that... And a couple of other things, among them the final paragraph – Consummatum est, really... Those words are bound to sound either very moving or quite bufoonish and at least I felt certain dissonance.

Ultimately, for me this book was mostly a sad and cruel fairy tale told in the realist convention. I admit that now, writing this post so long after reading the book, I feel that I’m not that much under the spell anymore, but it was a pleasure to read.

PS. I really want you to know that I’ve cleared this post from some really bizarre metaphors and comparisons. I always have this tendency and try not to give in, but today my resistance is weak. Some had to stay...
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Old 2nd Apr 2007, 21:37   #32
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Default Re: Book 28 - The Harmony Silk Factory - Tash Aw

Like Oryx, I enjoyed this book. For a first novel, I felt it was thought provoking, interesting and intriguing, as well as being competently written.

My interpretation of the reason why Jasper hated his dad Johnny is because Johnny was always curt and cool with him. Jasper took this as an indication of Johnny's inherent evil, but in fact, as we found out later, the reason Johnny was not a consistent parent was because he was conflicted - he obviously loved the child (eg the scene where Peter sees Johnny cuddling Jasper at a train station when Jasper is a small child), but he obviously also felt a sharp pain every time he looked at Jasper because he could see in him Snow - the woman he had deeply loved - and knew too that he himself was not Jasper's father. Imagine the love-hate conflict that would inspire in a man who, like Johnny, was not eloquent with his emotions. And Johnny would also be stricken by the knowledge that whoever Jasper's biological father was - Peter or Mamoru - Snow had loved that man in a way she had never loved him, Johnny. Another source of pain for Johnny was that both Peter and Mamoru had betrayed him in some way - Peter by reneging on their friendship and pursuing his wife - or acting as his friend only to steal his wife - and Murama by flirting with his wife as well as being the thoroughly nasty murderous piece of work he was.

I think one of the points of the book was to show how you can think you know a lot about an individual and yet not know them at all. Jasper assumed Johnny was evil, corrupt and had engineered the murder of those fellow countrymen in the cave by alerting the Japanese. And I at first believed Jasper. But by the time I read Snow's account, I thought Johnny sounded like a genuine and gentle person - he obviously really loved Snow, and Jasper's version of Johnny taking over Snow's parents' home and using it to host his own parties after his marriage to Snow turned out to be wrong - it was in fact Snow's parents who treated Johnny shabbily, not vice versa.
Peter's version makes me feel even more sad for Johnny - while reading Snow's version, I was under the illusion that at the very least, Johnny had had a loving, loyal friend in Peter. To then discover that Peter was feigning his friendship with Johnny to a certain extent, in order to be close to Johnny's wife Snow, was a blow.
I hope that, in the fictional world, after Johnny's funeral, Jasper would open the parcel that Peter had given him and discover, from his mother's diaries, that Snow had not been as pure as the driven, as Jasper had assumed, and that Johnny had in fact been the wronged partner in their marriage. He might then realise that the fact that he was not Johnny's son explained in part Johnny's aloofness towards him and his imperfections as a father. He might also realise that the old English man he had been so impatient with at the funeral was in fact likely to be his father.

I really liked the book. The weakest link for me was Snow, who seemed, apart from her beauty, to be somewhat vacuous. I wanted her to express why she was so sure she did not want to be with Johnny and how she felt she could be so sure about it when she acknowledged that Johnny had hidden depths that she had never seen. And if she was this sure, why did she marry him in the first place? Surely not only to challenge her parents' authority over her? She seems to feel protective enough over Johnny to defend him when her parents are rude about or to him, so she obviously doesn't dislike Johnny - why then is she not willing to give the marriage a chance? And if she is so sure she wants to leave him, why does she crave the development of the physical aspect of their relationship? Is she really so superficial that she falls for Mamoru, and if she does, why do her feelings change so suddenly when he kisses her in the forest? (She is pulling away even before he rapes her). Is she just an immauture spoilt little girl in love with the idea of being in love? She seems it, in some ways.

Thanks, Oryx, for your enlightening views on this. I gave it 1/2. It's not perfect, but for a first novel, it did impress me.
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