A story set in modern China wins the Royal Society of Literature VS Pritchett Memorial Prize 2015by Jonathan Tel / November 30, 2015 / Leave a comment
Jonathan Tel has won the £1,000 Royal Society of Literature VS Pritchett Prize for his short story “The Seduction of a Provincial Accountant.” Tel says that my “story was inspired by what is perhaps Chekhov’s most famous story, ‘The Lady with the Dog.’ Whereas he wrote about a romantic seduction in the Russia of his day, I am writing about a financial seduction in China nowadays.”
You could almost think you were in a foreign country. Once this was a treaty port, and there remain a number of European buildings, pretty and absurd. A pleasure steamer goes past, so close you feel you could reach out and touch it, with tourists raising phones to capture the beach. Farther out is a chemical transporter, bizarrely unshiplike in form, being composed of reservoirs and tentacle-like pipes; NO SMOKING is painted in characters larger than the name of the ship itself, and a lone seaman is on deck, leaning against a railing, smoking.
The man observing all this turns and climbs over the rocky foreshore, and encounters, coming the other way, a younger man wearing a T-shirt with English words on it. It seems one or the other will have to step aside, but actually neither does, for there is a vendor drawing their attention. He is cross-legged on a sheet of white vinyl; his DVD emits jaunty music while a paper cut-out of a cartoon dog, upright on the plastic, jigs in tempo. How does this work? What hidden mechanism makes it possible? “Buy one for your children! Five yuan each, three for ten yuan!” and, imploring the older man, “Buy one for your mistress!”
It is the younger man who crouches, and gets six, all different, the dog in addition to other creatures. “My girls will love this!” “Girls?” says the older man. “Twins. In August they’ll turn five.” “Ah, twin girls! How cute! Nature helps you evade the one-child policy.” He adds, “I have a daughter too, but she would not like this.” While the vendor is calling out to some other tourist, the older man explains, “It is a con. The…