Xiaolu Guo, UFO in Her Eyes (2009)
Silver Hill was an unremarkable village in Hunan, long since neglected by the Chinese government; until a peasant woman named Kwok Yun saw a ‘flying metal plate’ in the sky. The National Security and Intelligence Agency soon sends men to investigate; the results of this are chronicled in the documents which comprise the text of UFO in Her Eyes, as are the changes through which Silver Hill went in subsequent years. Shortly after seeing the UFO, Yun found and helped an injured Westerner – which inspired the latter to make a hefty donation to the village.
To my mind, the title of UFO in Her Eyes doesn’t just refer to Yun’s metal plate. It also makes me think of the glint in the village chief’s eye as she contemplates what could be done with the money from the Westerner, and the possibilities for further developing Silver Hill on the back of the UFO sighting. Xiaolu Guo’s satire is sharp as she depicts the urbanisation of Silver Hill, a process which merrily robs several villagers of their livelihoods even as it supposedly paves the way for good fortune. And it’s only too clear that Silver Hill’s development is probably based on nothing more than a mirage.
Benjamin Wood, The Bellwether Revivals (2012)
Oscar Lowe wanted to go beyond the narrow horizons of his working-class upbringing in Watford; but the job he’s ended up in – care assistant at a Cambridge nursing home – isn’t all that different from the future his parents had in mind. But a random visit to a recital in King’s College chapel, and meeting the lovely Iris Bellwether there, brings him into contact with a more privileged world. Iris’s brother Eden is a brilliant but eccentric organist who believes he’s found a means of healing sickness through music – and there’s a chance he might be right.
Benjamin Wood keeps the tension up all the way through his debut novel: we know from the first page that tragedy is on the way, but how that comes about can still surprise. Wood also manages very well the game of revealing whether or not Eden’s theories are true. Underpinning this is the theme of free will, which plays into Oscar’s reflections on whether he can really become his own person. After The Bellwether Revivals, I’ll surely be keeping an eye out for Wood’s work in the future.