From Publishers Weekly
The inhabitants of Five Spice Street gossip, spy and seduce one another in this lovely surrealist romp. At the center of the drama is Madame X, a mysterious figure who has a strange hold on her neighbors' imaginations. She could be anywhere from 22 to 50 years old, according to her neighbors, and her notions were deeply at odds with the traditions of Five Spice Street. Much of the fascination comes from her affair with Mr. Q. Meanwhile, a figure known only as the widow spends her time protecting the neighborhood from Madame X and Mr. Q by reading their letters, investigating their rooms and making bold, if unsubstantiated, claims about their character. The translators do a marvelous job of preserving the prose's lyricism, which enhances the surreal scenes that seem to be the stuff of everyday life on Five Spice Street. Xue's stridently weird and vainglorious characters are quite a bizarre retinue, and the air of paranoia and mystery is perfectly captured. (Mar.)
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There are plenty of pungent goings-on at Five Spice Street, the odd locale ruled by an enigmatic “Madam X” in Xue’s first novel-length work to be published in English. No one knows the age of Madam X, who holds undeniable sway over those around her. She’s romantically linked to Mr. Q (a letter-perfect match, no doubt). Inhabitants of Spice Street find an ally in a woman known only as “the widow,” who probes the lives of Madam X and Mr. Q, drawing brazen, albeit unjustified, conclusions about the pair. Who is the mysterious Madam X? Is she a mistress of the occult or merely a modern-day manipulator? What is it about her that prompts others to probe their souls? Xue (Dialogues in Paradise, 1989) is the pseudonym of Chinese novelist and short-story writer Deng Xiaohua. Here she blends surrealism à la Dali with a hefty dose of existential angst. Prickly and provocative, Five Spice Street poses penetrating questions about the search for identity and the definition of self. --Allison Block