Age of Prosperity as a noir thriller

In a post at Twelve Hours Later, I discuss the political fantasy Age of Prosperity (盛世, aka The Fat Years, aka The Gilded Age) by John Chan Koon-Chung (陈冠中) in the context of other recent socially critical Chinese science fiction.

One curious aspect of this novel is the shift in point-of-view. Part I is largely told by Chen in the first person, aside from one chapter in which the characters who remember the missing month narrate their personal histories. Part II switches to limited third-person narration. Because Chen identifies himself as a genre writer (an author of third-rate detective fiction) in the first half, one likely explanation for the point-of-view switch is that he’s composing a mystery based on the old friends he’s encountered. With that in mind, both the character histories and the third-person narrative are the creation of first-person Chen from Part I. There are indications that this may be the case: Chen’s musings in Part I that he really ought to take up writing again, the interrogation of the government official in Part II, when Chen remarks that he feels like a character in a novel.

This hypothesis suggests that an English translator ought to style the dialogue with a little bit of hard-boiled coloring, along the lines of the weary narration at the opening of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Chen the dilettante detective stalks through Beijing’s well-to-do neighborhoods in search of a missing month, gleaning bits of information from old friends who have conveniently managed to track him down and from well-placed members of the establishment who may be using him for their own purposes.

The risk with this approach is that you’d be imposing a voice on the original text that might not be there — the Chinese is colloquial and conversational, but not particularly stylized — but occasional quips in the dialogue and self-deprecation in the interior monologue hint that it might be justified, if just barely.



Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply