cover image The Red Thread: A Love Story

The Red Thread: A Love Story

Chronicle Books, Nicholas Jose. Chronicle Books, $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-2951-9

A mysterious but classic work of Chinese literature exerts an influence on an unusual love triangle in this beguiling new novel by Australian writer Jose (The Rose Crossing). In Jose's stylish romance, modern-day Shanghai is a forward-looking economic empire, yet still a city consumed by its past--ghosts haunt temples and lakes, hotels are built on graveyards and the specter of Red China is ubiquitous. These contrasts are personified by Shen Fuling, a young art dealer who along with Australian artist Ruth Garrett and ""half glamour queen, half street kid"" Han share names with characters in a real memoir entitled Six Chapters of a Floating Life, written by Chinese writer Shen Fu in 1808. Just after Shen receives a first edition of the opening four chapters of the work for auction, he meets Ruth and becomes convinced that he and his soon-to-be lover are reincarnated versions of its protagonists, Shen and Yun. When Han encounters the couple at a nightclub, the connection she feels to Ruth is as strong as Shen's, and the three play out a life that somehow has been lived before. But the incomplete manuscript of Floating Life ends with Yun's death, and Shen's discovery that Ruth has cancer prompts a search for the missing chapters and an alternative ending to the tragic story. Jose's use of Shen Fu's memoir, which he translated himself from the Chinese, is quirky and inventive: lines from the memoir are woven seamlessly into the novel, sometimes uttered by characters in mid-conversation, and culminate in an ingeniously imagined version of the lost two chapters. Red-type passages and sentences appear in both stories as bloodlines, connections to the past. Sections from Floating Life, symbolizing the ever-renewing passion of its lovers, dominate, but the highlighted fragments of Shen Fu's story are the most potent, a reminder of the immutability of art in a world where history has ostensibly given way to commerce. For those who share Jose's sensibilities, his tale lingers well after the last page. (Sept.)