In this darkly comic novel, a group of women inhabit a world of constant surveillance, where informants lurk in the flower beds and false reports fly. Conspiracies abound in a community that normalizes paranoia and suspicion. Some try to flee—whether to a mysterious gambling bordello or to ancestral homes that can be reached only underground through muddy caves, sewers, and tunnels. Others seek out the refuge of Nest County, where traditional Chinese herbal medicines can reshape or psychologically transport the self.
In Love in the New Millennium everyone is a wit, especially children, and everyone has thought deeply about things. The surface is deep. To speak in operatic utterances is the norm. They have great names: Mr. You, Fourth Uncle, Little Rose, a vagrant is named Long Hair ... Part of the difficulty of reading Love in the New Millennium was that I couldn’t stop tweeting passages. To be a reader was to become a trailer, and to become an actor, too. It’s irresistible, the way one enters this laughable, shifting no-time where everyone inside is talking about like the weather. It’s also very boring, as a plotless book is. A circling, nonbuilding narrative gets tiring. What’s the pleasure, then? Humor and surprise. It’s a frankly poetic existence ... There’s a matter-of-fact instrumentality about self in this book. One is as wry about existence as existence seems to be about the humans that occupy it and eagerly fill the pages of its novels.
Through the stereoscopic tales of a group of women searching for enlightenment in an uncanny world of espionage and secrets, Can Xue stretches the dimensions of the novel, conjuring an irresistible fiction that is — like the reality in which one character finds himself — 'an enormous enigma within an enigma' ... Nothing is as it first appears: in Can Xue’s non-conformist characters, and her disregard for traditional narrative conventions, the reader is thrown into a surreal, transitional realm ... The novel is imbued with a certain kind of exhaustive dream logic ... The clamour of voices — manifold whispers, contradictions, gossip, interruptions, conversations, riddles and conspiracies — makes it easy to miss the novel’s quieter moments of satire and poetry. But Can Xue’s dreamscapes are rich and compelling: it would be easy to compare her to Schulz, Calvino or Borges, except that her mythical worlds occupy a space that reads like it is being discovered for the first time ... Can Xue’s prose — in Annelise Finegan Wasmoen’s vivid translation — eschews the stylised clichés of Postmodern experimental fiction, creating a terse and lucid aesthetic that is both symbolic and incisive, oblique and witty.
Time operates a little differently, as it tends to do in most of Can Xue’s work. The laws of the universe, space, and time appear ordinary, but the atmosphere is unsettled: there’s an inkling that something’s off, and sometimes the characters notice it too ... Plot isn’t grounding us here. The narratives shift between chapters. Events and sentences repeat. That buoyancy, though, is mimetic of the lives and spaces the novels contain ... This novel is bound, but refillable. Without narrative restraint (like both love and time?), it can’t really end.