A brief, anecdotally driven tale of a man who possesses virtuosic language skills.
In his first novel, Cavendish presents what seems like an unusually brief memoir, though the book’s prefatory disclaimer describes it as fiction. The unnamed protagonist is blessed with an extraordinary aptitude for learning foreign languages, specifically Chinese and Japanese. After wearing out his welcome squatting on a friend’s couch, he finds himself not only jobless, but homeless, but he is finally able to parlay his linguistic talents into gainful employment. He starts off as a counselor of a kind, serving the Chinese community in London by helping his clients navigate everyday problems made more burdensome by the language barrier. Often this means dispensing simple advice, but usually he just helps them read the mail. Eventually, he is promoted on a probationary basis to dispatching legal advice, and he decides to embark upon a career as a lawyer. Crafty, he figures out that one can obtain a law degree in London within three years without attending a single class (he describes how in considerable detail). Along the way, the author dispenses quite a bit of advice: how to learn Chinese and Japanese efficiently, the best apps to download toward these ends, his mnemonic devices for mastering legal minutiae. The entire account in written in an informal, conversational tone and is so brief it feels like one long story delivered in a breathless sitting. It certainly has its quirky charms and can be genuinely funny. When the narrator meets a Buddhist monk in Canton, he remarks: “I know he was a living Buddha, not because of the light reactive Hunter S. Thompson style hired killer sunglasses he was wearing, but instead because on his business card it said ‘huo fo,’ which means ‘living buddha.’ ” However, the protagonist remains elusive, and it’s all but impossible to discern a thematic thread that runs through the tale other than the impressive language skills of the main character.
A funny but fragmented fictional memoir.