Sunday 26 June 2016

Love in a Fallen City

Eileen Chang, 1943-47 [Karen S. Kingsbury, 2007]
(April, 2016)

I read this straight after Occupied City, and to be honest I was expecting to get a bit more of a compare/contrast thing going. That I’m finding that harder to do than expected is, I guess, a function of the luxuries afforded by both time and distance, as well not living under an occupying military administration.

While Peace is all about the War, for Chang it’s the elephant in the room: obliquely referenced if at all. Only in the title story does its violence directly impact upon her characters’ lives. Otherwise it's generally something in the background, a constraining presence rather than a compelling force. As in Sealed Off, which I think is my favourite story in this collection, as a brief lock down of the city forces a chance encounter on public transport. It's a beautifully controlled character study and, not coincidentally, the shortest story here. I think in general I prefer Chang's writing when it operates under constraints (both literary and figurative), as in the longer pieces there's a tendency to melodrama, which I'm sure is very well done if you like that sort of thing, but isn't really to my taste. Chang had a brutally incisive eye for character, one that I thinks works better in isolation than when it gets lost in plot.

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