Attendees: Raj, Rachel, Maya, Asy, Vicky, Scott, Pierre, Timmy
Keeping in theme with the book, we had Mexican food to munch on as we animatedly discussed about the book. Continue reading
Attendees: Raj, Rachel, Maya, Asy, Vicky, Scott, Pierre, Timmy
Keeping in theme with the book, we had Mexican food to munch on as we animatedly discussed about the book. Continue reading
This was the night when minority races were racists, starting with Raj saying “All Chinese homes have prawn crackers what!” With the Chinese theme, we had beer cocktail, dumplings, mooncakes, and eclairs.
Attendance included Veronika, Pierre, Calvin, Chams, Raj, Timmy, Asyraf, and Aaron.
We asked questions about the authorship as Asyraf noted that it felt like a female writing fan fic, not unlike the Japanese boys love manga genre, written by women, for women. Chams wondered if the book would be more organic in its Chinese format.
1. Death: Most of us expressed our disappointment at diabolus ex machina of the sudden death of Lan Yu when they are about to live happily ever after. Pierre noted the trope of the time. Chams claimed that the sad ending makes the story more poignant. Raj playfully suggested that perhaps that author is saying that the person who screws around is better for survival (in Raj’s words, “Cheebyes always live”), although Pierre rightly noted that we were assuming that staying alive is a good thing.
Aaron brought up the history of sad endings. EM Forster wanted a happy ending for Maurice, but the only way he could envision them together was to remove them for society, staying in isolation in the woods. Like Forster, Bei Tong just couldn’t envision a happy ending in the 80s. Veronika pointed that that this is especially true in the age of HIV/AIDS in the 80s. Han Dong associates sexual diseases with angmohs, Raj noted.
2. Communism, Money, and Love: There are several communist references in the book: Asyraf noticed that Han Dong means “defend Mao Ze Dong” and Chams said Han Dong is conformist, when compared to Lan Yu.
Aaron noted that in the postscript, Bei Tong wrote that she was surprised to come across such strong love existing in a capitalist society like USA. In short, Beijing Comrades argues that money is bad for true love, that is, a true form of communism is actually good for love.
Timmy said, “Chey. So typical of Chinese. You Chinese love money, you can talk about money the entire day. Lan Yu is the true Malay, giving up money for love.”
Raj chimed in, “Yeah la, Chinese people are very good at saving money.”
Asyraf shrewdly noted the irony: Han Dong embodies a good communist, and he hates anything Western (from angmohs to their food), and yet he is so good at earning money, and he uses money to buy boys.
3. Communism and sexuality: Calvin informed us the tension between Confucianism and communism. Communism wished to get rid of old “gods” and so Confucianism wasn’t popular. And Beijing Comrades exemplifies this tension. While communism means that people are equally valued for their production value, that is to say that being gay is ok since sexuality is not important in work, China is essentially a Confucian society in terms of being filial and producing heirs.
It is such a society that we see a shocking scene. Han Dong’s mother cries, and Han Dong says his love for Lan Yu is not as important as his mother’s wellbeing. Chams saw it as Han Dong taking the path of least resistance, as he is a conformist. Veronika put herself in Han Dong’s shoes and agrees with Han Dong’s thinking.
4. Gender: Seen in the communist/capitalist light, Raj notes that most people are commodities. Boys are bought for sex; women have sex with rich men who are potential husbands; and in a sense, women are seeing rich men as commodities.
We also talked about Han Dong leaving the curvy woman for the slim Lin Ping. Timmy scoffed, “Chey, so typical of Chinese.” Raj added, “Yeah la, Chinese fuck Malays and Indians, but marry Chinese in the end.” HAHAHA. How come so much Chinese bashing one?
In any case, there is much complexity about gender in the book. But since only two of us read the book fully, we didn’t delve deeply.
5. Sexuality: In the essay attached to the end of the novel, Petrus Liu argues that because Han Dong doesn’t believe in labels, “Han Dong stands as an example of a failed gay identity” (379). But Asyraf, Calvin, and Veronika called on Liu’s narrowmindedness: Han Dong by sleeping with everyone is bisexual or polyamorous; just because he’s not absolutely gay does not mean it’s a “failed” identity. Aaron also said that Liu uses a Eurocentric point of view on Han Dong. Han Dong needs to overcome societal and familial pressures, which he does in the end, and admits he is gay eventually, even if he lacks courage to live the life. Isn’t an acknowledgement of his gay self an affirmative identity even if it doesn’t adhere to the Western notions of screaming to be out-and-proud?
Petrus Liu also claims that since Lan Yu stumbles upon being gay–as Asyraf puts it succinctly that Lan Yu doesn’t choose to be gay–Lan Yu has a “non-identity” (379). But we disagreed with Liu. Obviously Lan Yu has a choice. He rejects a violent advance, and psychoanalysis, as Pierre noted. We also observed that Lan Yu goes out to find gay friends; you’re gay when you choose to make friends in the gay community. That is an identity.
6. Sex: Besides sleeping with men and women, Han Dong sleeps with “Annie” (drag queen) and HJ (guitarist who wears makeup). Why does Han Dong sleep with men he is not attracted to, Aaron asked. Both Raj and Pierre said that because Han Dong doesn’t know how to deal with relationships, he is experimenting.
Are there too many explicit sex scenes? Raj said, “Yeah, what’s up with emphasizing Han Dong’s big cock?”
Timmy responded, “Yeah lah, it’s so un-Chinese.” When asked to clarify if big cocks are un-Chinese, or if writing about big cocks is un-Chinese, Timmy declined to answer.
Aaron admired the sex scenes because they defy the hush-hush taboo secrecy of Chinese society.
As we always want to end with a positive note, nobody had anything good to say, although everyone who didn’t read the book were persuaded to read the book. Chams said in the tiring world we live in, it’s good to read a trashy book to relax. Calvin liked the purity and steadfastness of Lan Yu. Although Pierre said the book is dated, Aaron felt that it has captured a cultural zeitgeist at a particular point in history; he could identify with the struggles of Han Dong (“The struggle is real!); and the complexity of gay relationship between Han Dong and Lan Yu is universal and still relevant to reflect on our own modern gay relationships. Love is timeless.
Dunno what nth discussion because someone hasn’t written the past discussions yet. *passive aggressive mode on* Just kidding.
It’s back to the good old days, with Raj, Timmy and Aaron, like we were at the start of the book club 5 years ago. The book is a fan-fic of a queer Harry Potter—queer because he likes the person, not the sex—and a gay Edward Cullum.
These are some of the things we talk about:
That is not to say this book isn’t a book with good intentions. Baz’s difficulty of admitting he’s a vampire (262) mirrors the difficult coming out. His dad, preferring him to be Undead than to be queer, is heartbreaking (215, 279).
Futhermore, there are two gay sex scenes between the homos, and gay sex scenes are always good, even if they are encoded. First scene: Baz and Simon’s fight scene with the dragon is written in erotic terms: “I did something I’ve never done before—something I probably wouldn’t try with anyone I was scared of hurting. [anal sex hurts.] I push… I just push it into Baz” (239). “His arm straightens like a rod… I push a little more magic. I worry that it’s too much… His shoulder is rock hard… it’s jerking itself…I stop pushing… letting Baz draw on my magic” (240).
The second scene is more subtle (391).
In a way, The Mage, wanting to liberate magic so that even people with a smidgeon of magic can go to Watsford, and eradicating school fees, can be seen as democratic.
But Mitali, Penny’s mom, an Indian woman, who calls The Mage sexist for no apparent reason, wants a traditional Watsford, keeping magic for the best students. She also thinks that they are better than Normals (111, 261, 401). In a way, Mitali is supporting the system that oppresses her. Raj thinks that Mitali and Penny are portrayed as a stereotypical Indian family, which makes the novel racist.
Unfortunately, the death of The Mage, especially at the hands of Baz from an Old Family and Penny, Mitali’s daughter, implies that Mage’s democratic ways are wrong; they revert to the old traditional methods.
One could argue, as Raj did, that the Mage represents extreme democracy, ie, he is an extremist that he must be destroy. After all, in the end, he wants to be the most powerful magician of all time.
The theme of outcast recurs in the book, not just gay people—a vampire and a demon—are outcasts. Ebb’s brother, who chooses to leave the world of living to become a vampire, is ostracized by the magic community, and by Baz, Simon, and Penny who need his help badly, bearing in mind that Baz himself is a vampire and that Ebb’s brother is very powerful. Even the outcasts can outcast others.
Ebb’s death can also be read as her rejection of her power. Because she rejects her immense power, because she lacks the training, she dies at the hands of The Mage.
Superficially, this book seems to be a message of inclusion, but at a deeper level, the prejudice of the book shows. If you don’t want to be in the magic/religious community, you will be outcast and we will never accept you back, regardless of the direst situation. If you don’t practice your magic/religion, you’ll be punished, and in Ebb’s case, her punishment is death.
Poor Raj! He set such a beautiful table, and no one came for the book club. Aaron had emailed Raj a list of questions beforehand to moderate the discussion, but since no one came, Raj decided to answer them.
Questions for Teahouse Fire:
Ichi-go ichi-e is linked with Zen Buddhism and concepts of transience, particularly depicted during the tea ceremony conducted in the style of famed tea master Sen no Rikyu where unique scrolls, tea bowls and flowers are set up in the tea room. In the context of tea ceremony, ichi-go ichi-e reminds participants that each tea meeting is unique. This is also true that there is has been no repetition of the set up for the varios tea ceremonies in the book. In each of the tea ceremony, the host and guest had one unique experience that lead to friendship or disaster
In a deeper sense, it is about Aurelia meeting Yukako in the teahouse that night of the fire – it is that one moment, one meeting that changed the courses of their lives. Towards the end, in the same tearoom, Aurelia kissed Yukako and again changed the course of their lives.
Mary vs Goddess of Mercy.
The status of fallen women is the same – Aurelia’s mom and Kenji’s girlfriend Aki – outcast.
Role of wife
Social order – Samurai, Traders and the untouchable working class
She prayed for her life to change and she rather not have the uncle with her – shown by her praying to change her life before the goddess and also her uncle only showed up in nightmares later in her life as Urako. Also, she never bothered to find if her uncle survived the fire at all.
I believe that she doesn’t know her father’s name and that name “Bernard” was given by her uncle. Hints that her mom could have been raped by a priest was suggested by both Aurelia and her mom when she said, “Aurelia Bernard. Who is this Bernard, tell me? The Church hates truth, and the nuns hate it most of all.”
She wanted someone who desire Yukako to desire her as well. Also she believes Yukako desires Nao instead of her and she wants to punish her.
Symbolism and subtle messages are very much a cultured Japanese behaviour – the book is full of hidden messages just like Urako’s closeted sexuality – classic example of her dress handing in the alcove.
Yukako’s marketing of the tea sets made them more of a commercial item rather than “ichigo ichie”- “one moment, one meeting”.
Yukako’s way of atoning for her mistake – she will never be able to host another tea ceremony in Baishian again – again on the theme of Ichigo Ichie.
You need fire and water to make tea – its sweet irony. Also Aurelia had a fire after a long journey over sea into Japan and after another fire she sails away from Japan.
Yukako did it for other reasons rather than the fact that she is a half sister. Yukako , according to the book, has been key reason for women to learn tea. She also introduced this to the Geisha world through Koito. But whether she has a right – it all depends on who’s perspective you want to look from.
Yukako’s acceptance of the western influence into their lives. Also Urako is her first student.
Maybe her real father had blond hair??
Author wants to show the historic importance of Singapore as a port as well of the fact that Japan owned Singapore at one time.
Its common in those days – people don’t get out of their circle and houses too much
Fantasy – Fetish – every man wants a virtuous wife who is a whore in bed!
Yukako – Tai – positive
Tai – Tsuko – positive
There is a lot of brotherly love and jealousy by Nao to Hiro and Akio. Hierarchy in the teahouse is one the reason for this and class status.
Didn’t help when he married an untouchable gal !!
Different sort of love – Yukako is a sort of motherly-sisterly love – whereas Inko was more of her equal. Inko loves Urako more that Urako loves her while Urako love Yukako more than Yukako love her.
Really? Why??? There is too many female characters in this book!!!!
There was no real great male characters , but at the same time there is no real male bashing. There are more mean gals depicted in this book than lame men. This book centres on women rather than men.
A great attendance: Suffian, Timmy, Har, Sam, Lydia, Gabriel and Aaron.
Our initial reactions to the book:
Timmy and Sam found it long-winded, beating around the bush, although Suffian and Aaron defended the winding style to mirror the plot of returning to Catholicism. Strangely, Har felt the opposite of Timmy and Sam, calling the novel the Twilight of its time.
Suffian pointed out the autobiographical nature of the book while Gabriel lamented on the practicality of book sales.
1. Catholicism: Lydia questioned if the book is pro-religion since everyone suffers under it, but Aaron cited the positive ending as pro-religion. We talked about the significance of the name Brideshead and linked it to John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” which is often analyzed as the narrator being a bride of God. “God’s Bride” can also be the Church itself. Whichever the case, it is clear that Brideshead is a symbol of Catholicism, and eventually, the occupants return to the house, ie, Catholicism.
Everyone was bored by religious talk–Gabriel said “religion” is a word so often used it loses its meaning–so we moved on.
2. Men Desiring Men: Gabriel cautioned us on ahistoricity and said that the characters cannot be considered “gay” as it is a neologism. The characters should be known as men-desiring-men. And all men who desire men in the novel have to suppress their desires or face dire consequences. Lydia and Tim brought up the child-like nature of Sebastian, whose teddy bear is both a longing for his sexless childhood and a chastity ring for his budding desire for men. Suffian noted that the sexlessness in the novel paralleled Waugh’s own life when he was in the Oxford’s “Hypocrites”.
We also talked about Catholic guilt being sublimated in various ways, such as alcoholism, and post-coital cigarettes: you use one sin to substitute the other.
Besides Sebastian, Lord Marchmain‘s desire causes him to be a pariah among his children and people; Anthony Blanche is portrayed negatively as a “queeny gay” (Timmy’s words); and, Aaron argued, even Charles has to transfer his love for Sebastian onto Julia, settling for a substitute.
1. Timmy’s favorite character is Cara for her insightfulness and willingness to accept Lord Marchmain for who he is. Timmy cited extensively on Cara’s thoughts on homosexual love:
“It is a kind of love that comes to children before they its meaning. In England it comes when you are almost men; I think I like that. It is better to have that kind of love for another boy than for a girl… When people hate with all that energy, it is something in themselves they are hating. Alex is hating all the illusions of boyhood–innocence, God, hope.” (pp. 102-3)
2. We all had a soft spot for Sebastian whose struggles gay people can identify with. Timmy thought Alexius is rather like Sebastian.
3. Lydia read against the grain, liking Anthony Blanche, who dares to live his life, but Timmy hated the one-dimensional depiction. Lydia both despised and empathized with the Julia-Charles relationship.
4. Lady Marchmain is an enigmatic character, manipulative but, according to Lydia, this is how Lady M is brought up and how she shows her love.
5. Rex isn’t a complete being because, Lydia and Har claimed, that there is some form of xenophobia at work, and because Rex is nouveau riche, his pursuits are with money, not his life.
Both Gabriel and Suffian liked all characters, as Suffian reminded us that even though the characters are flawed, all of them are very realistic.
Sam and Har didn’t change their minds about the novel after the discussion. Aaron said there are some hilarious parts in the books (Charles and his father; and the dinner scene onboard with Julia). Timmy and Aaron felt the book was beautifully written. This is Aaron’s favorite passage when Charles’s cousin chides him for hanging out with “Anglo-Catholics, who are all sodomites” and Charles defends himself:
“I like this bad set and I like getting drunk at luncheon”; that was enough then. Is more needed more?
Looking back, now, after twenty years, there is little I would have left undone or done otherwise… I could tell my cousin that all the wickedness of that time was like the spirit they mix with the pure grape of the Douro, heady stuff full of dark ingredients; it at once enriched and retarded the whole process of adolescence as the spirit checks the fermentation of the wine, renders it undrinkable, so that it must lie in the dark, year in, year out, until it is brought up at last fit for the table. (p. 45)
Aaron interpreted this paragraph as when one endures the years of pain and suffering, the pain and suffering will be useful one day. One day, all that darkness can be used as bursts of sunshine.
Lydia chimed, “So it basically means what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”
Shout-out to Isaac for allowing us to use his office for our discussion; Aaron moderated the discussion.
Alexius thought the book was not as good as he had hoped, as he thought it could have been the female version of Lord of the Flies. He stated that it was funny for him initially; however it became cheesy and the “singing at the end spoiled the book” for him. Isaac also agreed that it was not funny and felt that the book was not catered to “people of his age.” Jiaqi thought the book was fairly entertaining, though the author did not set out to explore the presented themes in a deep manner and glossed over issues in an attempt to make it more “politically correct.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Javin actually read the book and declared that he liked it, comparing it to Miss Congeniality. Aaron gushed about the book too, saying that despite the “cheem” English being used, parts of the book were a “tour de force” with sublime writing.
We first delved into the opening chapter, “A Word from Your Sponsor.” Aaron asked why did the author started with this. Alexius commented that it acted as a preface and to give context to the book. Javin felt that the chapter was meant to be ironic and read with a sense of humour. Like Alexius, he believed that the opening chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. Both of them agreed that it was akin to the reality television format that we see nowadays.
Death was pretty imminent in the book; in fact, according to Aaron, they were too many of them. The closest explanation that we derived from this was to showcase the blood, sweat and tears to becoming beauty queens, and what their world is like in extreme situations (Javin).
From there, we moved on to why Taylor started on her killing spree. Aaron thought that the change in character was freaky; Javin felt it was too sudden and Alexius commented that Taylor may have been possessed. All three agreed that Taylor suddenly became unstable.
We also touched on the topic of race. Aaron felt there was diversification covered in the book, which got the thumbs up from him. It also highlighted racism and society as a whole. Aaron asked Shanti’s motives for being best friends with Nicole, the other minority character of the book. Javin viewed it as a strategy to win the beauty pageant, while Timmy felt it was just a minority allaying with another minority. Jiaqi opined that the two share the same challenges and thus, would be able to understand the problems if they face it together.
Jiaqi felt that the transgender issue was not treated in a “deep” manner and no serious conflicts were portrayed. Javin disagreed, highlighting that Petra was initially supposed to be cut out of the pageant due to her nature, but was eventually allowed to stay when they were stranded on the island. Aaron questioned whether the issue was sensitively handled. He also brought up the question as to why Shanti disliked and ostracized Petra. Timmy commented it may have been a case of minority versus minority, while Javin quipped that “all Indians dislike transgenders.”
We also discussed briefly on lesbianism, which Javin felt was handled too tamely compared to the other issues that were present throughout the book.
Aaron questioned whether the book was a feminist book, which got a positive response from everyone else. They all agreed that it portrayed all kinds of women – stupid women, weak women, strong women, coloured women. Aaron felt that this portrayal was “amazing” as it showed the different sides of beauty queens and not as one-note, dumb females; that behind these facades, they are smart, gung-ho women.
In comparison, the males were glossed over and came across as only two-dimensional. The pirates, in particular, were hardly portrayed (Jiaqi), only had to be hot, good looking and have abs (Javin), and were daft, scheming douches (Aaron).
Aaron felt that the author was punishing her by turning her into a crazed killer and making her stay on the island. Javin agreed, adding on that she has the necessary skills to become Ladybird Hope. Overall, he viewed her as a sad character who may have decided to remain on the island because she “cannot win the beauty pageant.”
Jiaqi disagreed; he felt that she became more interesting due to the transformation and may have even found herself. “She became what she wanted,” Alexius quipped, from being leader of the (beauty queens) tribe to leader of the jungle.
Javin found her annoying, “high and mighty”, sarcastic and disrespectful; someone who was no better than the rest of the beauty queens. Aaron agreed, commenting that she was too moralistic and compared her to Sandra Bullock’s character in Miss Congeniality. Alexius felt there was nothing special about her.
Javin’s favourite character; he found her “realistic” and felt that she was “interesting” due to her devious nature. Aaron, however, felt that the author made her unlikable and only used her “cultural background” to make people/ readers like her. Javin disagreed, proclaiming that Shanti “does not represent her race.”
Jiaqi thought that she was not negatively portrayed. Aaron and Javin both agreed, saying that her character was fleshed out quite well (Aaron) and she was tastefully written (Javin). Javin further added that the author gave her a good ending and allowed her to shine. Alexius agreed to a certain extent, but also found her “scary” as “transgenders may influence heterosexuals to like them.” (WHUT.)
Jiaqi felt that she was not stupid, perhaps just “slow” in thinking and reaction.
According to Aaron, she was not like a typical beauty queen, although Jiaqi felt that she did not get her “happily ever after.”
Javin viewed as a typical, normal person who struggled with her decisions and took more time to figure things out. Jiaqi felt that she was sexually experimentative, and that was fine with him, which led to Aaron asking whether she was just using Petra to figure out her sexual orientation (“any hole to poke”).
Jiaqi found her to be the more interesting character of the book. Aaron thought her sexual awakening scene to be the dreamiest and sublime part of the book.
Like Taylor, this character too ended up going crazy, which led to Aaron proclaiming it as his punishment for being the mastermind of the island. Jiaqi and Javin both viewed him as the bad guy of the book. Alexius felt that he was the only one to have a back story out of all the characters. Agent Jones is also Alexius’s favourite character thanks to his humorous outcome (he put on a bunny suit, had a serious exchange, and then died shortly afterwards).
Apart from Javin and Alexius, both Aaron and Jiaqi did not have any favourite characters. Aaron found them all to be unlikable and hated them, yet he still liked the book, which he felt was very difficult to achieve.
In capping off the discussion, everyone was required to share something (good) about the book. Alexius liked the back cover and thought it showed some initial promise and meaning to the book. Javin liked the book and found it hilarious, commenting that the book did not take itself too seriously and was portrayed realistically to a certain extent. Jiaqi found the book fairly easy to read and was kept entertained. Aaron thought the book was well-written and multi-faceted, though he felt it was rather difficult to sustain a satire throughout 400 pages.
Isaac, however, found the book annoying and the humour did not bode well with him; hence he had a DNF (did not finish) stamped all over it.
Because of the haze, we decided to cancel the meeting. But for those who have read the book, these are some questions to consider. Feel free to comment and discuss online.
1. The start of the novel is a rewriting of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, signaled by some keywords such as “Behold! Your immortality!” What is the intention of Mark Gatiss to do so?
2. In the beginning, Lucifer tells Everard a story of Ida’s death but we find out later that Ida is alive. Why does Lucifer lie? What does it show about him?
3. What is up with the corny names, Lucifer Box, Everard Supple, Midsommer Knight, Charles Jackpot, Creataceous Unmann, Christopher Miracle, etc?
a. There are many disabled bodies in the novel: Ida’s limbs, Everard Supple’s glass eye, Mrs Knight’s face, Prof Quibble’s wheelchair. To what purpose do the disabilities serve?
b. There are only fat or slim bodies in the novels. How are fat bodies portrayed? And how are skinny bodies portrayed?
c. Both Bella Pok and Venus obviously adore their fathers very much and seek revenge for them. Father issues anyone?
d. If we take Venus as a transwoman, how are the women portrayed, bearing in mind that Venus and Bella are the villains in the novel? Is it fair to say that women are either femme fatale or docile in the novel, showing a sexist mindset?
e. List some of the INNOCENT victims who die or suffer in the novel. How many are men and how many women?
f. What is the portrayal of homosexuals, Charles Jackpot and Lucifer Box, like?
g. What is the portrayal of Other races (other than whites)? Is it racist?
h. After Venus’s sex is revealed, whenever Venus is mentioned, the characters go, “Venus, that…. person,” instead of “that man” or “that woman.” This clearly shows the characters not knowing how to place Venus–male or female? But the characters also persistently use “he” as a pronoun on Venus. What does this demonstrate? Is this trans-phobic?
i. How does class issue come into play? Does it matter than Lucifer lives at Downing St?
j. Is there a metaphor about playing god when blowing up a volcano?