Book review: Love in the New Millennium

Love in the New Millenium

Love in the New Millennium
by Can Xue
Translated by
Annelise Finnegan Wasmoen
Yale University Press

Originally published in Chinese
in 2013
Genre: Literary fiction
288 pages


My experience as a member of the Shadow Panel for the Man Booker International 2019 turns out to be an experience in extremes. I recently reviewed The Years, definitely the best book I have read so far in 2019 and one of the best books I have EVER read. I will soon present the most awful book I have ever read. And today, Love in the New Millennium is the most bizarre one!

To tell the truth, I really have no idea what this book is really about, or what the author tries to do!
Thanks to my Goodreads shelves, I just realized I actually tried to read another book by the same author, for my previous experience as a member of the Shadow Panel for that same award, and I didn’t finish it, because I was totally confused. Even as I reread the synopsis today, I have no recollection at all of the book.  Can Xue is presented as “the most important novelist working in China today.” Possibly, but her books are not for me, no thanks.

So to go back to Love in the New Millennium, I don’t even agree with the official synopsis: “In this darkly comic novel, a group of women inhabits a world of constant surveillance, where informants lurk in the flower beds and false reports fly.” I never saw the comic of it, and the surveillance didn’t seem central at all.

So what is it? A weird collection of shady characters, with one point in common, I think: they know, love or have loved a man called Wei Bo. All the characters and their love relationships are messed up. Several of them are professional prostitutes by the way. I dare to hope that our new millennium can offer more steady examples of love. And do all Chinese people have lovers and think only about sex?

Some passages felt Murakami-ish or Kafkaesque, but unlike books by these two great authors, Love in the New Millennium didn’t seem to offer any real point of reference to me. Instead of Murakami’s subtle land at the border between real and unreal, we are here in the most bizarre world, with characters levitating, hallucinating, and making cicada sounds, and places and people disappearing in a blink of an eye. Was the author on acid or what?
I think if I write down my dreams and nightmares in a loosely connected form, I may achieve a similar result as this book.

The only possible redeeming element was the social description of the women working in horrible conditions at the cotton mill. Becoming professional prostitutes was a much better situation for them than the mill!
And I liked the descriptions of the rural world in Nest County, in the chapter before last!
Definitely a book I would have DNFed if I hadn’t felt obliged to read it all for the Shadow Panel.

Should it be on the MB12019 shortlist? 
Certainly not on my shortlist!

VERDICT: The weirdest book ever, with messed up characters and relationships.


Any other contemporary Chinese author I could understand?



5 thoughts on “Book review: Love in the New Millennium

  1. Being no stranger to trying to decipher inexplicable books (are we just gluttons for punishment?) I feel your pain. I have wanted to read Can Xue and I undoubtedly will. You have raised the challenge! I read that Chinese sci fi book The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, so I have some idea of what you were up against. You deserve a medal for getting through, but I would not suggest you tackle Lispector just yet!


  2. The best I did with this was while reading it last night under some serious medication for a small surgery I just had. Somehow, it didn’t seem so odd when I was in my “eighth day!” I’m relieved to know, though, that you were similarly confused as I was a few days ago.


  3. Pingback: Man Booker International Prize 2019 shortlist | Words And Peace

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