This is one of those novels I picked up and put down numerous times over the years. I think this is mostly because while not expressly long or expressly dense, it’s the right combination of both to be just dense and long enough to feel a little like a chore. And that’s a shame, because I really enjoyed the novel and thought it was quite funny. It just requires some patience.
We meet our hero, Kien, a Sinologist with a growing library and an ego based entirely on his position as Sinologist with a growing library. Having come from a little money and with an income from his work, he’s got a comfortable life. Well, a life in a big house, with little furniture, but several ten thousands of books. He obtains a live-in houseworker who over time decides that the two of them should get married. They do, and she slowly reveals a plot to steal his fortune, only to realize before long that not only is she barely in the will, there’s barely a fortune to speak of. She works a plot to run him from the house.
So now homeless, and bookless, Kien must wander out into the world with no practical skill or sense, and has a series of odd little misadventures in thought and action as he tries to survive his new circumstances. This book changes up on you several times, as each section more or less ripping the rug out from under you as the new section begins. It’s the work of a young writer high on his own stash (and maybe indicating the treatment of women he’d become a little famous for).