Xiaolu Guo’s dictionary-narrative: A post from Fiona Doloughan

Several years ago I was at the South Bank to hear the shortlisted candidates for the Orange Prize read out extracts from and discuss their work. This is the context in which I first came across the work of Xiaolu Guo, author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. In this dictionary-novel Guo tells the story of ayoung Chinese woman, who has come to London to learn English, and an older English man. What is of particular interest is the manner in which this narrative is told: through the use of dictionary entries (alien, privacy, intimacy) the narrator, Z, who is also a protagonist in the novel, relates her story, showing how cultural differences take their toll on the couple’s relationship and poignantly how, over time, as she gains vocabulary and voice, he loses his. In addition, the novel is written in progressively ‘better’ English, mimicking the process of language acquisition as Z begins to come to terms with the syntax, idioms and vocabulary items of English.

Since then, I have read other works by Guo (eg. UFO in Her Eyes, Fragments of a Ravenous Youth and Lovers in the Age of Indifference) and viewed her recent film She, a Chinese and have come to see her as an innovator in terms of form and as someone who crosses boundaries in a number of senses (geographical, artistic, cultural and linguistic). a critic of globalisation as they impact upon aspects of life in China, she is no less discriminating when it comes to the sometimes illusory freedoms enjoyed in the West. I can highly recommend her work both as a writer and as a filmmaker.

Here’s the link to her homepage: http://www.guoxiaolu.com/

Fiona Doloughan is at the University of Surrey http://www.surrey.ac.uk/english/people/fiona_doloughan/.  Her most recent book is Contemporary Narrative: Textual Production, Multimodality and Multiliteracies (Continuum,2011): http://www.continuumbooks.com/books/detail.aspx?BookId=136367&SntUrl=152422&SubjectId=997&Subject2Id=927

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