The Last Lover is written by Can Xue (pen name for Deng Xiaohua), and translated from Chinese into English by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen.
If Quentin Tarentino was living in a Vanilla Sky-esque world in the middle of a Twilight Zone episode and writing in traditional Chinese metaphors, this book would be the result. This has to be the strangest book I have ever read. Having a little bit of background in Chinese culture, I was able to understand some of the writing stance of the author. Many Chinese stories are told through metaphors (much like reading Aesop’s fables).
In the Last Lover, we follow along the journeys of the characters Joe: a worker at a clothing factory and separately his wife Maria. Vincent: the owner of the clothing factor and separately his wife Lisa from the gambling city. Reagan: the owner of a Rubber Tree plantation who buys his uniforms from the clothing factory and briefly his sometimes mistress, Ida.
Each of these characters is on their own journey through their thoughts and every single one of them has trouble telling reality from the created worlds within their minds. There is a blending of realities between characters as they each feature at some point or another within the “reality” of the other characters. Can Xue has also created many other interesting characters along the way.
I can’t really say that this is a “good” book, but I can’t very well rate it below 3 stars. If nothing else, the creativity and originality of the Last Lover is beyond comparison. Can Xue paints beautiful descriptions of the people (when relevant) and their locations. She does an amazing job of making you constantly question reality, just as each character does themselves.
The beginning is a little hard to get into the flow with her unique style of writing. However, once you grasp the way that Can Xue has chosen to tell her story, you are more easily to follow along with the journeys. The characters themselves are definitely interesting to get to know, and I think that Maria and Joyner were definitely my favorite characters. Can Xue depicts the fears and desires from the depths of each character’s psyche.
Overall I still stand by my 3/5 star review due to the actual story as a whole. I had many grand illusions of what the point of the book itself would be. I should have known, given the Chinese desire to leave a story with a messed up ending, but I even anticipated this and still felt extreme disappointment in the final closing scene. I wanted there to be a better wrap up of all that had transpired. In its way there is a closure, but I wanted something more from the intense journeys that were traveled with the characters than the ending that fell flat from such expectations. If you are interested in taking a journey unlike any other, this book is still worth the read, and it is definitely a unique story of its own. I could easily see it being made into a Vanilla Sky type of movie and again, I must commend Can Xue on her beautiful originality, even if the journey was a bit messed up along the way.
*I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.