i know what you mean!

Tiểu Nam Phong wraps – first impression

Posted on: March 13, 2016

“Tiểu Nam Phong” của Cửu Nguyệt Hy vừa kết thúc đăng trên Tấn Giang hôm nay, happy ending nếu đọc phiên ngoại.

I’ve noticed CNH is the drama queen variety in the sense that she likes dramatic tragic ending with high pathos, very shakespearean.  Like she wants to be swept away by the moment the heart is wrenched (definitely the ngược preference).  But then she feels terrible for her characters, and writes you an email saying “actually they are kinda ok, i thought they died but they didn’t.  Last time I saw them, they were just in vegetative state.  Just kidding!  They weren’t.  They just looked like they were.  It’s hard to tell….  Nevermind, just forget I’ve said that OK. Talk to you later! bye!”

Her endings tend to be messy as the result.

I think it’s ok to have a conscience and undo the hurt etc., it’s her literary freedom.  But, as in the case of Tiểu Nam Phong, I strongly feel she should tweak the narrative timeline.  Either do time leaps i.e. flashback and flashforward, which she did do –once–in “Tiểu Nam Phong ( though it wasns’t enough to be effective)– or, I don’t know, tell the story backward?  The point is, the high drama of her act 3 often leaves her act 4 so forgetable and messy, I often feel disappointed.  The whole narrative works so hard to drive things to one pivotal moment, and the readers’ emotions get so spent in that one moment, afterward feels like “take me 10 years into the future and let me see bleakness or hope immediately.”  After such tragedy, you want instant relief or a merciful blow to kill, whichever one, but hurry up!  But CNH feels that such instantaneous time leap is too abrupt, so she drags out the lingering pains into the first half of act 4, and then by the time she brings in the good news, I sort of have lost my interest.

I think CNH is a very cinematic writer.  As in, her endings would have worked much better as a film.  The sad quiet scenes depicting the aftermath would work much better as images with music etc., but with words, it doesn’t work too well for me.

Out of all her works, I think “Thời Niên Thiếu” has a clean ending that I like most, because after the moment you know for sure they are splitted up, one heading out and one heading “in,” after the author gives a very sentimental ending to that episode, the following (and final) chapter gives an immediate x years timeleap and tells you that they are now together.  I like.

The timing of such revelation is important especially if the author wants to negate what she has been leading the readers into believing.  It’s like telling a joke “I am sorry but I just burned down your house — just kidding!”  The “just kidding” part has to come immediately after delivering the bad news in order for the joke to work.  Otherwise, when you drag the false news out longer and make the recipient all worked up beyond the point of no return, you lose.

With Tiểu Nam Phong, the opening is an 8 year time leap which tells you that they have lost each other for some reason, but it wasn’t an “I hate you” parting.  Then everything goes back to the beginning, and in linear fashion, tells the love story up to the final moment right before the 8 years gap.  And the novel officially ends right there.

Except the author serves up 3 epilogues.  Epilogues traditionally exist to not interfere with the main storyline while tying up loose end.  Except these epilogues aren’t just tying up loose ends, they solve the freakin’ 8 years gap mystery and gives the final ending with a big bang.  Seriously.  They need to be in the main storyline, because they carry the author’s thematical message(she likes to preach….).

I think it would have been better if the first 2.5 of the epilogues were merged into the opening chapter (since they are of the same time period and are nothing but long moments of sadness and longing),  stopping right where the main character runs into the policeman at the airport.

And then we flash back to 8+ years ago, when things began.  Up to the last dramatic moment of departure.  And then immediately after that, serve up the last 1/2 of the final epilogue.  Immediate relief.

If you want the readers to dwell on feelings of loss and sadness, it’s best to have them in abundance at the opening, because it builds the character, it drives the curiosity.  To have them after the most tragic dramatic moment in the final chapters is tough, because I as the reader have already spent all my emotions, don’t ask me to feel anything beyond….




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