In the city of Yong’an, a young woman who’s a writer and an amateur cryptozoologist writes the stories of the city’s fabled beasts. From the sorrowful beasts who die if they smile to the ancient returning beasts who live underground, the narrator relates episodic tales through which she discovers more about the lives of her friends and ultimately herself. Aided and often obstructed by her friend Charley, her university professor, and the professor’s student Zhong Liang, these relationships create moments of humour as well as enlightenment. The beasts are often metaphors for the way in which societies treat people considered other, but, as the novel progresses, the boundaries between human and beast become blurred.
The narrator is a great creation; she’s young, takes no nonsense, lives alone and drinks alone in her local bar – a play on the white, male, western noir detective. The novel is partly a detective story, but also a meditation on the nature of humanity. It’s being filmed for Chinese TV, but if there is ever to be an American remake Guillermo del Toro would be the perfect director.
Strange Beasts of China is published by Tilted Axis Press. The copy I read is my own purchase.