Guo is an unsparing noticer. She paints a vivid but unflattering portrait of her new dwelling in her adopted country ... The truthfulness and accuracy of Guo’s language gives the book mischief and energy. There are shades of Lydia Davis in her carefully etched sentences as she details the ups and downs of the relationship without sentimentality ... What propels the book forward is in part the sense of suspense that hangs over the nascent relationship: Has our heroine made an enormous mistake getting together with an itchy-footed boat lover? But there’s also something compelling about the breadth of the world the narrator inhabits. The book moves briskly from the canals of North London to Scotland, Australia, Germany and China. Along the way, it’s capacious enough to touch on moments of real darkness, while somehow managing to be mordant, funny and, ultimately, life-affirming ... Guo gives her characters scope to live and suffer, so her book’s final affirmation has a hard-won quality that carries weight.
The work of Xiaolu Guo both plays with this globalization of literature and rebukes it ... Guo seems interested in describing distance rather than points of commonality, capturing an inability to talk rather than a global conversation. She has spoken out against the self-censorship caused by authoritarianism, but also the kind created by the demands of the market ... Guo’s novelistic writing is not particularly narrative, or linear, or uplifting. Her books do not privilege storyline but take a more documentary approach. She seems interested not in some sense of 'the world' but in a question of what it might mean to be international. The time we live in is not defined by a shared humanness but by the fact that no one is truly at home where they are ... This reserved filming keeps the viewer a step away from what she is seeing; we may feel a little like we’re attending a party where we don’t know anyone and are straining to put together who is who. Similarly, Guo’s writing preserves this remove through definitions and questions, reminding the reader that the language it is written in has been studied and learned ... Her own loneliness permeates the book. She is in a relationship, even in love, but often alone, wordless, unable to express what she wants.
Almost each chapter includes a dizzying moment of mutual exclusivity like this one, of suddenly realized difference from others, the book like a series of high existential peaks from which the narrator might plummet ... The constant shifting of what constitutes 'difference' makes Guo’s portrait of an immigrant experience a restless and mesmerizing one ... The interplay of each of them through the narrator’s vast intelligence and sensitivity—and Guo’s ability to keep them all in play through the strict structuring and pacing of chapters and sections—makes the characters’ reactions reliably unpredictable, frequently delightful, and, at times, deeply moving.
... a powerful portrait of our volatile political moment ... thoroughly original, a bracing portrayal of rootlessness in a divided nation ... It’s a relatable depiction of an up-and-down courtship. And it’s full of thought-provoking observations about language, art, gender and expat life ... an intellectually stimulating gem, a timely novel that won’t feel any less beguiling as the years pass.
The novelist, memoirist and film-maker Xiaolu Guo writes with tremendous delicacy and nuance about migration, language, alienation, and love ... Each short chapter — averaging perhaps three pages — is a tiny resonant moment from which Guo draws usually for questions rather than answers, to end in doubt and distance. They are almost the equivalents in prose of Larkin’s more dramatic poems ... There is a certain overlap between the writing of Guo and other, especially female, authors from the Chinese diaspora such as Yiyun Li and Chia-Chia Lin: the superb poetic quality of the prose, the pessimism, the themes of family.
Guo uses language to play with cultural clashes, be it between the narrator and life in post-Brexit Britain or between the narrator and 'you' ... Even in the book’s quieter and seemingly unimportant moments, Guo moves with her thoughts on language ... Guo writes with a directness and honesty that suits the narrator’s sensibility, but with an intelligence and depth that constantly forces the reader to think ... moving and affecting; the language lingers.
It’s a witty, melancholic answer to a question that lurked and vexed until this year’s more alarming events took over: Who will write the novel of the UK’s Brexit calamity? ... a fragmentary, ironic study in fragmentary, innocent experience ... Guo is a savvy observer of the version of itself that London presents to the likes of her narrator ... The subtler aesthetic-emotional argument in the book is about Barthes, and the versions of love his writing implies ... Guo borrows Barthes’s tentative, laconic use of short, titled chapters with enigmatic epigraphs, the narrative parcelled up in precious interludes.
What confers identity, and what gives a sense of belonging? Is it family? Locale? Community? In her charming novel, A Lover’s Discourse, Xiaolu Guo explores these universal questions through the experiences of a man and woman who meet and fall in love despite their considerable differences ... it is a credit to Guo’s talent as a writer that this slim volume succeeds so beautifully in addressing [these questions]. Her prose possesses qualities of poetry, and her plot is structured just enough to make the story cohesive while still managing to evoke the ethereal quality of memories ... The story is told in brief chapters, some only a page or two long ... Guo uses the couple’s struggles as a microcosm of a national conversation ... While Guo asks timely questions about societal division, she is not prescriptive in her answers. She leaves it to readers to discern their own truths.
[A Lover's Discourse] shares its title with Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, and like Barthes’s book it takes a fragmented form, that of casual conversations, mostly between two lovers. More important than this nod to Barthes, though, is the novel’s own singular linguistic texture and the ongoing jolt of its political setting. Guo keenly inverts the anthropological gaze onto the British, their language and other cultural peculiarities. Her new arrival faces a society that cannot agree on its own boundaries or nature, apparently at war with itself. Within this she calmly considers the meaning of artistic authenticity in the age of mass production ... A Lover’s Discourse examines what it is to be alone within language and burrowing into a new language, while reconciling it with your native tongue ... Guo’s prose has a plain, precise, and somewhat documentary quality ... In Guo’s trapping of the humorous minutiae of language and loss, she opens her literary borders to a playful and nuanced meadow.
It’s as pretentious as it sounds, but redeemed by moments of humour, giving the book an intellectual rom com feel ... English is not Guo’s first language but her style makes an impact – she writes in short sentences, almost like haikus, making it feel abrupt and unsentimental, with lots of direct speech ... As the title suggests, it is more discourse than plot-driven novel, which at times feels leaden with too much analysis of emotions. But overall, the impression is of a story told with charm that will leave you in a ponderous mood.
The novel, inspired in part by literary critic Roland Barthes’ meditation with the same title, is composed of brief, emotionally resonant chapters ... Enticingly spare, often wry, and just as often touching, the novel addresses the narrator’s sense of dislocation ... An ordinary sequence of life events is illuminated by the perspective of an outsider trying to craft a new home.
... a fragmentary meditation on the nature of love, on desire and on connection between two humans. It is a kind of autofiction in the mould of Rachel Cusk or Meena Kandasamy: an unapologetically intellectual project where thoughts on female desire, or memory, or work, are strained through a sieve of Walter Benjamin, Yuan dynasty poetry, Le Corbusier, Marguerite Duras ... Which risks it sounding indigestible, when actually one of Guo’s achievements in this novel is to make it straightforward to read, with short, plain scenes and a narrative that makes no pretence to twists or adrenaline-pandering turns yet is absorbing nonetheless. This clarity of vision could seem almost simplistic, if it weren’t for the freight it carries: the challenge of language, both on the basic level of conversation, and on the more complex level of how to locate and describe a self when the language available is provided by so many forces outside that self ... Guo’s simple style does not always escape the trap of earnest banality. The man, as in A Dictionary, is too often only a foil for her questioning, a limitation not entirely excused by her deliberate location of the text in a tradition of 'dialogues'. And I missed the humour of A Dictionary. At its best, however, this book sets off cross-cultural echoes with the lightest of strokes.
[She] is interested in how the perception of a relationship can carry as much weight as the relationship itself. Through her precise and unflinching language, a revealing account emerges of how one mind opens to another, how it processes each decision and moment of wondering ... The protagonist’s academic interests feature heavily, too. That results in some riveting sequences, as when she returns to China to study a town whose residents are professional art copyists ... a profound meditation on the meaning of originality in the face of convincing facsimiles ... Other nonfiction digressions are less successful, making the portrayal of the relationship at the book’s core feel stagnant for long stretches ... Novels about love affairs are often named romances, but the most distinctive quality of A Lover’s Discourse is how unromantic it is ... Given how fully the book gives itself over to examining him, the 'you' lover remains disappointingly vague by the end of A Lover’s Discourse. Of course, that may well be the book’s intent.
This beautifully told and gently introspective story of a young couple touches upon a host of relatable topics, from cultural and generational differences to socioeconomical perceptions and relationship issues between genders. Readers will have much to ponder, and book groups especially will appreciate.
Modeled after Roland Barthes' structuralist masterpiece, also titled A Lover’s Discourse, Guo’s latest meditation on the nature of belonging asks many of the same questions as her earlier works—Can language create identity? Can love create a home? ... A fiercely intelligent book whose exploration of the philosophy of identity is trenchant and moving.
...poignant if uneven ... 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.