Read The Chinese Love Pavilion: A Novel by Paul Scott Free Online
Book Title: The Chinese Love Pavilion: A Novel|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 6.53 MB
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The author of the book: Paul Scott
Edition: University of Chicago Press
Date of issue: August 14th 2013
ISBN: No data
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Reader ratings: 4.5
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The Love Pavilion (1960) opens with the first person narrator, British Tom Brent, reflecting back on a scene of great exoticism: the Chinese "love pavilion" on the grounds of a small estate in Malaya, where he had gone in search of an old and mysterious friend and fallen in love with a half-Chinese prostitute in 1945. The estate had been owned by a wealthy Chinese merchant, who was murdered one day and his head set on a pike to frighten and warn onlookers. Then the pavilion became the site of executions of Chinese soldiers/guerrillas (the Japanese had conquered Malaya and occupied it from 1942-1945). At the point when the British kicked out the Japanese, the pavilion with its beautiful green, yellow, and scarlet rooms became the location of assignations between the local British officers and several young Chinese prostitutes who would dress in gowns corresponding to the colors of their rooms; the British officer would wear a dressing robe in the color of the prostitute whose company he chose to enjoy that night. Tom Brent tells us that he had fallen in love with one of these prostitutes, Teena Chang - but his story begins earlier, in India.
Brent at the age of about twenty has left England to make his way in India, since that was the path of his grandfather. (He's an orphan, I think - at any rate, family-less, aimless, and ambitionless.) He lands in Bombay where he works as a low-level clerk until he happens to cross paths with a charismatic fellow-Brit about ten or fifteen years older named Brian Saxby, who also seems to have no career. Saxby waxes philosophical, endlessly. (This put me in mind of some of the manly philosophizing that tends to go on in the thrillers of John Buchan, although a lurid - by which I actually mean pale - imitation thereof.) Brent and Saxby become friends, more or less. Saxby persuades Brent to leave Bombay, which Saxby derides as dull, for Punjab to work on the arid lands of a farmer he knows named Greystone. Brent spends about four years working these arid lands, though Greystone never seems to be able to grow anything. At this point we are about 75-80 pages into the novel, and it seems aimless and purposeless indeed. In Bombay Brent has an affair with an Indian girl whose nipples are always straining the fabric of her clothes. In the Punjab he dates a British girl named Millicent, but tells us the relationship will never go anywhere.
The war intervenes - although very, very succinctly. Brent does something during the war - fights, maybe? Leads a platoon? It's hard to say and it's all over in a sentence or two. Then a Major Turner asks him to go to Malaya to find Brian Saxby, who has gone to ground. The Chinese merchant has been found murdered, and Brian Saxby is Suspect Number One. This plot turn is a nice development for the reader, who was just about to donate the novel to the local Rosicrucian Society for the Betterment of Illiterates. Now instead of skimming endless lame philosophical conversations and waiting as Greystone tries to knead something living from the soil, perhaps we might be embarking on a Heart of Darkness-esque journey.
In Malaya, Brent is housed with the local British army officers. Their leader, Major Reid, kindly donates the time and services of his prostitute, Teena Chang - said by some to be the most beautiful woman in Malaya - to Brent. Let it be said that everything in the novel having to do with women, prostitutes, and love feels like a phony scaffold on which Scott is constructing the idea of "the exotic." It takes the novel into Reader's Digest Condensed Books territory. What the reader wants is more of the hunt-for-Saxby plotline, which, granted, is not that far above Reader's Digest. But at least it feels like an adventure, with menace, and intriguingly, the sense of menace comes not only from the mysterious Saxby, who from various accounts is either dead, dying, sick, or gone completely off his rocker and darkening his skin and dressing like a Sikh, but also from the trigger-happy British officers assisting in the hunt for Saxby.
I was a huge fan of Scott's The Raj Quartet, but I also read it years ago and I'm hoping when I reread it it won't be as disappointing as The Love Pavilion.
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Paul Scott was born in London in 1920. He served in the army from 1940 to 1946, mainly in India and Malaya. He is the author of thirteen distinguished novels including his famous The Raj Quartet. In 1977, Staying On won the Booker Prize. Paul Scott died in 1978.
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