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Book Review

Book Cover

UFO in Her Eyes (Hardback)


Author: Xiaolu Guo
Chatto & Windus
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 0 701 18335 6
Available 05 February 2009

In the year 2012, on the twentieth day of the seventh moon, Kwok Yun makes her way across the rice fields towards the Silver Hill village on her bicycle. Exhausted she stops for a rest. Distracted by a strange noise in the air she gazes up and sees a silver flying disc. Overcome for a while she gathers herself together in time to find a strange man who she rescues, but by the time she has alerted the authorities he has disappeared. Soon the fame of Yun’s discovery spreads, starting a chain of events that will change the villagers lives forever...

UFO in Her Eyes is a new novel by Chinese born, novelist and film maker, Xiaolu Guo. Her previous novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers was nominated for the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.

Although the book may be considered science fiction, in the sense that it is the introduction of technology which is the catalyst for change, it really is more an exploration of the damage that can occur in rural towns with the introduction of reckless modernity with dubious value. The central stance of the book appears to hold that the race to the future is likely to tread on past values and relationships, destroying more than it creates.

The book is an allegorical epistolary novel set in the form of four reports, the first one is a National Security and intelligence Agency report into the UFO sighting, which also allows Guo to introduce us to her cast of characters - the forward thinking Chief of Silver Hill, Chang Lee, whose real desire to better the lot of her people stems from a personal tragedy, though she never stops to think about the true cost of change.

Yun is a simple, mannish, woman of low intellect whose sighting becomes the catalyst for all the changes in the village. The book stays away from committing itself regarding the absolute veracity of the sighting; even Yun feels many years later that the event felt like a dream.

With the notoriety of the saucer sighting money starts to flow into the village, turning it from a sleepy backwater to a modern town, but in the process damage is done to all the villagers. Some lose their poor housing to make way for modern structures, some lose their lives and only a few are able to adapt to the changes.

The book is presented as actual files, with dark ink blots representing the binder holes, fake paper clips holding notes and the Silver Hill records presented in a dark grey paper. This way of presenting the story adds a level of authenticity and the format had previously been used in many novels, including Stephen King’s Carrie.

The books tone is many layered with a great deal of humour which slowly turns to tragedy as Silver Hill is transformed. The only odd thing about Guo’s use of language is her choice of English expletives. The book appears not to have been a translation, there certainly was no reference to a translator, so the use of "B*tch, B*stard" which many of the villagers pepper their language with seems an odd choice as it only served to interrupt the flow of the narrative.

That small point aside this is a novel which will make you think about the cost of progress, given that we are now in the middle of a credit crunch with millions sacrificed on the altar of progress and greed. The story that Guo presents has something to say, not just about the destruction of the rural Chinese way of life, but the cost we all end up paying for someone else’s idea of a bright and shiny future.


Charles Packer

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