The bearable likeness of endless debauchery
Diary of a Naked Official By Ouyang Yu Transit Lounge, 224pp, $24.95 IT was not till that moment that I realised, perhaps for the hundredth time, that if there is any fine difference between love and sex it lies between the first mouth and the second mouth. A woman in love with you will want both, for as much depth and heat as possible, but a woman in sex with you will only open one, the one below, to perform the function of a fee-charging pump until you run dry. THE diary-keeper’s desires are base, animalistic, and the only way he sustains them is in knowing that “youth is the best pill’’. The reading experience of Diary of a Naked Official is what this man’s life is like — an accumulation of perversions, normalised over time into a blase, everyday eroticism. He tells of his own depravity, over and over, until we don’t find it alarming anymore.
Ouyang Yu has written extensively in both Chinese and English since he moved to Australia in 1991, often writing at the edges between the two cultures, with a prolific output of bilingual poetry and translation work, as well as his diverse output of fiction and criticism.
In this novel, he explores the Chinese fascination with eroticism, through the diary of a middle-aged deputy editor at a publishing house in China, who commissions books that are often translations, often erotic, while writing his own diary of sexual misadventure in English. It’s an explicit catalogue, featuring a range of mostly teenage prostitutes.
Yet if portraying the ugliness of the anonymous diary-keeper’s life is the goal, Yu is too effective. That is not to say the novel is unbear-