Insole Court Book Club Notes – February

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li.

I must apologise, I was not altogether awake for this months meeting. Luckily, the group is more than capable of chatting away without my input. We used some of the suggested book club questions in the back of the book so guide the discussion.

Almost all of the group had read the book and found it to be a fairly quick read. Readers were definitely divided over their enjoyment of it, but most found exploring the Asian-American experience and Chinese culture interesting.

Thematically, we discussed the three different love stories, which varied due to age and experience of the people involved. We also chatted about the recurring theme of feet in the novel, and the toll that working in hospitality had on the characters feet.

We explored the differences between the generations, and how the American culture had impacted on the relationships between the characters. The concept of survival was strong throughout.

None of us found the characters particularly likeable. They were presented as controlling, and mostly selfish. Nearly all of them lacked self-reflection. Many of the older characters seemed disappointed in the next generation. Jimmy is the only one who seems to resolve his feelings and seems to come to an understanding about his Father, who is a strong presence throughout the book.

One reader described the characters that working in the restaurant as ‘knocking together so often that they end up fitting together’ which I thought was a really beautiful way of expressing the family-like relationships.

There was some division in the group about the language and style of the book, some found parts of it poetic, others found the vulgarity off-putting. We chatted about the fact that much of the book is written as if its Jimmy’s stream of consciousness, which could be a bit jarring when it changed perspective.

Overall, we felt that the book offered very little lightness, showing an often tragic side the characters experiences. It felt like some of the story-lines weren’t fully resolved. Generally, we didn’t love the end. Some of us wished for a different outcome, and some of us don’t like the six-months-later epilogue style.

Further reading/watching:

  • Parasite
  • The Farewell
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I’m well aware that I wasn’t entirely with it, and my notes weren’t great so please do chip in and comment below! I promise I’ll be more on it next time!

Kelly

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