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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



There's Nothing I Can Do
When I Think of You Late at Night


by
Cao Naiqian


general information | our review | links | about the author

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Title: There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night
Author: Cao Naiqian
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 232 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night - US
There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night - UK
There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night - Canada
  • Chinese title: 到黑夜想你没办法
  • Translated by John Balcom

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Our Assessment:

B+ : raw but effective

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night consists of a series of stories describing the lives of the inhabitants of a remote Chinese village, the Wen Clan Caves. With recurring characters and references to events from other stories these often short episodes (there are thirty of them) form a very loose sort of novel.
       This is an isolated, backward part of China, where the people actually do live in caves and where even the local doctor goes around barefoot and where, for example, it's not surprising for a family never to have had something as basic as a mirror. Few have much money or hope of getting any, and the stories are populated by men who do not have enough money to obtain a wife; one set of brothers manages better than most, but still can only afford to share a woman, alternating every two weeks ..... Pent up lust is a constant issue and problem, the desperate search and longing for sex leading to suicide, bestiality, and shocking incest. Sex and lust are also omnipresent, right down to the white-bellied toads one character comes across while they're in the middle of the act.
       There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night is a very raw text. Life is basic here, the characters almost all having to make do with very little. The food is generally simple, opportunities few. Love and lust blur, and neither is usually readily satisfied, and it is the hopelessness of their situations in this regard -- of never being able to find a woman, or be with the woman one is attracted to -- that drives characters to temporary madness, or alcohol-fueled inappropriateness, or, even, to suicide. There's a good deal of grief here.
       The characters do get by, for the most part; sadness and frustration seem inevitable parts of their lives, but Cao manages to keep the stories from being pure wallows in misery. The descriptions are stark and realistic; only once does Cao pull back, in 'Heinu and her Andi', describing the relationship between an old woman and the chicken she raises: here Cao allows his writing to become almost mystical as he allows the old woman some escape in her mind instead of brutally describing only what actually happens.
       Cao's style is simple and straightforward, the dialogue -- of which there is a great deal -- sounding authentic. These are not expressive characters, and their language is basic and very coarse (the dialogue is littered with fucks). They are frustrated, unable to convey what they mean, and thwarted even when the message comes across (as in the tragic 'Leng Er, Leng Er').
       Cao uses a great deal of repetition in his writing, a cadence that translator John Balcom renders effectively into English. The repetition is measured, so (surprisingly) it doesn't become too tiresome -- even when it is in the simplest form:

Lucky Ox wanted to throw the shovel on the ground, but he didn't.
     Throw it down, throw it down -- still he didn't.
     Throw it down, throw it down -- still he didn't.
       At times the writing and stories can seem too rudimentary, but overall Cao's efforts impress. This harsh realism can seem very dark, yet it is not an entirely depressing work. The feel is both more authentic and vibrant than most peasant-literature, and in seeming to capture these lives on the page so well Cao's fiction is consistently compelling.
       There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night is unusual -- more so in its presentation than subject-matter -- but largely successful, and well worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 January 2010

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Links:

There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Cao Naiqian (曹乃谦) was born in 1949 and works as a police detective.

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© 2010 the complete review

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