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Julian Meynell's Books

I like Books.

Monkey: The Journey to the West

Monkey: The Journey to the West - Hu Shih, Wu Cheng'en, Arthur Waley This is an abridged version of one of the four great classics of Chinese literature. The work is essentially a fairy tale of the highest order.

The book is a picaresque with the main story being that a Buddhist priest is travelling to India to bring back to China some religious texts. He is accompanied by the titular character Monkey who is a kind of trickster god and two other creatures Sandy and Pigsy.

The story moves effortlessly between straight ahead fairy tale and satire. The two main targets of the satire being religion and bureaucracy. It also while mocking religion can be quite respectful of it. The dialogue in particular is excellent. The characters will talk in typical fairy tale fashion only to suddenly break out of it and talk in what amounts to street slang. The view moving quickly between orthodox religious and social outlooks and the sudden undermining of them. The characters, as you would expect are broadly drawn, but very effectively so, and the whole thing has an assured brilliance to it.

People like Perrault and Wilde have treated the fairy tale like this is the west, but the assured brilliance of it is breath-taking. Highly readable, always engaging and charming, but containing hidden depths and a remarkably sophisticated sense of satire it is really brilliant.

I would recommend readers to start here, because the translation is wonderful, but when I had finished it, I accepted that at some point in the future that I would read the entire book.

It is easily the best book that I have read this year, and the best work of fiction that I have read outside the Western tradition.