I chickened out with my T this week – it was meant to be Thomas Hardy but I had a flick through Jude the Obscure, carried it around for a couple of days and then decided to read Tony Parsons’ My Favourite Wife instead. I will read Thomas Hardy, but I think it’ll take me a bit longer than a week to do it, and I wanted to read it under less tense conditions. I might start off with Far from the Madding Crowd or Tess of the D’Urbervilles anyway.
I’ve read most of Tony Parsons’ books before (you know, the ones with Darth Vader on the cover) and to be honest, they’re nearly instantly forgettable. I know I’ve read all of the Man and boy type ones, but when I read the synopses on the back I didn’t remember anything about them.
He’s got an obsession with Japan and the East which borders on unsettling, and induces a kind of impatience in me where I end up thinking “if it’s so good, then why don’t you bleedin’ live there”, which is perhaps a bit uncharitable, but there you go. He does have a Japanese wife, and by all accounts he visits a fair amount. Wikipedia comes to the rescue again. Another fun fact I learned was that he was married to Julie Burchill. I cannot stand Julie Burchill – she’s one of those snotty, smug and spiteful feminist journos I try to avoid at all costs. In fact, I was under the impression that her and Cosmo Landesman had had a lesbian-ish love affair all of their lives. I also dislike Cosmo Landesman. I can’t stand condescending film reviews, where they’re all one star unless there’re subtitles.
Anyway, enough about my personal likes and dislikes.
My Favourite Wife is the story of Bill Holden, hot shot London lawyer, who moves to Shangahi with his wife and child, amidst warnings of doom and gloom from family and colleagues alike. For a little while, it looked like the high life was being lived – limos, flowers, servants… As soon as the band of foreigners arrive at Paradise Mansions though, they realise that there are a lot of well dressed young Chinese women who get picked up by older men in nice cars, if you catch my drift. This immediately rankled with me – why would a successful law firm house a young family in a known spot for mistresses? Predictably, Bill falls in love with one of the girls, JinJin Li. Conveniently, his wife and child move back to Britain and she also has an affair/nearly affair, which makes it okay for Bill to have an affair.
This was the biggest problem for me. Perhaps I’m too black and white, perhaps I’m missing the point, but I always find it difficult to feel sorry for philanderers, no matter what their gender, age, circumstances etc. In this instance especially, “My wife doesn’t understand me” is not going to cut it. Bill spends a lot of the book wracked with guilt over his bit on the side, but I found these sections tedious. If he feels that guilty, why can’t he tuck it back in his pants and talk to his wife?
Aside from this, I enjoyed Shanghai as a character of its own (although I was cursed with singing the Ed Harcourt song all the way through the book) and I do want to visit China one day. I was disappointed with the heavy handed clumsiness around the sections dealing with factory workers in China, and the sheer difference between the rich and the poor. It was the equivalent of being poked in the face with a sharp stick: “See how bad you are, all you westerners with your money and your penchant for Gap jumpers, you’re killing the children and the country’s flooding and you’re up there in your ivory tower”. Like seeing adverts about African children – it makes me switch off. Unless there are starving puppies involved, then I weep like a little girl with a skinned knee.
Read My Favourite Wife if you can sympathise with adulterers, appreciate a clear message and aren’t looking for something you’ll remember in a week.
Next week I’m reading Buffalo Gals and other Animal Presences, by Ursula le Guin. Guess which song I’ll have in my head.