Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Forging the Swords by Lu Xun

I've just finished The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun. It took some time: 400 densely-written pages with much to consider after each short story. The last section, 'Old Stories Retold', was quite different from the earlier sections which were, as I've said, slices of life.

These ancient stories were mythical, and one I was particularly struck by involved three heads (which had been parted from their bodies by a blue sword) fighting in a heated cauldron. One belonged to the king, one was the head of a 15 year old boy who had come to court to avenge his father's death, and one belonged to a mysterious dark figure who was also intent on vengeance, although why was not clear, at least to me. While the court watched in mute and patient horror, the three heads attacked each other's ears and facial features until the king's head was completely stripped and he breathed his last. At this the two other heads, apparently contented, sank to the bottom of the pot.

The story ended with an interesting pathological puzzle: which skull belonged to whom? All the flesh had been stripped by the boiling and fighting; and hair colour, scarring and nose-bridge height turned out to be inadequate clues. In the end all three skulls were placed in the king's tomb together: an unsatisfactory conclusion, but a logical one.

Since then I have tried to read Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang (also translated by Julia Lovell). It is written in an entirely different style, and is set in Japanese-occupied China in the 1940s.


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