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'A fragmentary meditation on the nature of love' Guardian
A Chinese woman comes to post-Brexit London to start over - just as the Brexit campaign reaches a fever pitch.
Isolated and lonely in a Britain increasingly hostile to foreigners, she meets a landscape architect and the two begin to build their future together.
Playing with language and the cultural differences that our narrator encounters as she settles into her new life, the lovers must navigate their differences and their romance, whether on their unmoored houseboat or in a cramped apartment in east London. Suffused with a wonderful sense of humour, this intimate novel asks what it means to make a home and a family in a new land.
Guo's poignant if uneven meditation on belonging, language, and the nature of love (after the NBCC Award-winning memoir Nine Continents) takes the form of a series of fragmentary scenes and ruminations addressed by a woman to her husband. The unnamed narrator, an art historian, leaves China for London in 2015 to work on her doctoral thesis about Chinese reproductions of classic Western artworks. After a few months, she meets the man who will become her husband at a book club. As the years pass, she struggles with language barriers and cultural differences amid growing hostility toward foreigners as the Brexit campaign heats up, and with the couple's difficult relationship, including an unexpected pregnancy. Through analysis of texts by Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Marguerite Duras, the narrator explores her own identity and desire to build a family ("What did Barthes know about love?" she asks, reflecting on a text that shares the novel's title). The husband's and wife's opposing natures clash more than they attract: she needs crowds and the vibrant life of her own culture; he prefers the quiet solitude of life on a canal boat and is inattentive to domestic responsibilities. While discussion of the narrator's PhD work is fascinating, the tidy ending feels discordant with her lingering questions. Though elegantly written, this love story fails to convince.