Not being the voracious reader that our former Editor is and not having access to a huge library nor the time, most of us around here haven't exactly been keeping up with our reading list, though on a recent trip abroad, I picked up Tony Parsons "My Favorite Wife" and it was passed around for a few of us to offer an opinion. Unfortunately, we don't have much good to say about the book. Note for those who haven't read the book and don't want it spoiled (if that's possible, STOP READING NOW!).
It's a simple story, wife forces the husband to move to Shanghai to escape their financial difficulties in London after being sold on the booming East, husband comes over all piss and vinegar full of righteousness then falls for a local girl made easier by wife deciding she hates Shanghai and wants to return to London, husband starts a relationship, wife finds out then forgives him and they live happily ever after, after husband exposes a huge corruption case and gets fired.
First off, the author does a good job at portraying the modern Shanghai, if at times he makes it seem a lot more seeder and a lot more desperate than it really is. I should say that its very difficult for me to read this sort of book, something that others had similar problems with, because we know the city so well and so much of our time is spent analyzing what he got right and wrong about the city that we miss out on what he's actually saying. Little things like referring to "the Dongbei" (incredibly annoying, but understandable, considering in English you would say "the Northeast", though Dongbei is more of a specific name, so it comes off sounding like "the Shanghai") drive us up the wall and make us lose focus on everything else that is being said for a page or two after it. His portrayal of Changchun is way over the top, he makes it out to be about as attractive as a city of lepers that arrived just after it got hit by a nuclear bomb. Though, to many, perhaps that is about as attractive as the city is. Again, its an issue of perception of us Chinese and a few expats who have been in China for awhile as compared to someone like Parsons (who at least made a few trips to China) who is unfamiliar with the city writing a character who is equally unfamiliar with the city and country.
Regardless of the above issues, the craziness of the triple murder, the main character's sudden search for his mistress in a monsoon and the fight that ensues with a PLA guard, the knack for characters to constantly pop up out of the blue (especially the wive's journalist friend), and the wrapping up of the story (and total forgiveness of the husband) simply is too far beyond reality to resonate with any reader. Sure, it's a work of fiction, but good fiction has to be grounded in some kind of reality, and the actions of the main character (and others for that matter) are way beyond that. There are times the story threatens to get good and may hold your interest for a few pages, but it quickly goes back to being ludicrous, and badly writing at that.
Verdict: It's a book that can be knocked out in a few hours, but doesn't have a legitimately written woman character and can only be recommended for male China hands who want to read everything written about China. For anyone else, save your time, it could be made into a halfway decent movie, though its so far-fetched and the dialogue is so off that its not likely.