Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 25, 2016

Sensational Snippets: The Empress Lover (2014), by Linda Jaivin

The Empress LoverIt’s Summer here in Melbourne, behaving in its usual Melbourne way, where a day’s scorcher can burn the vegie patch to a crisp but a hasty decision to take the doona for cleaning can leave you shivering overnight.  So it’s interesting to read about the seasons in Beijing in Linda Jaivin’s lustrous novel, The Empress Lover.   Like mine, the narrator’s preferences have changed:

Despite the door snake and all the creaking efforts of the gas heaters, the cold crept through the glass and into my bones.  I shivered and hunched into my doona, but for all the discomfort, the recurrent colds, chapped lips and numb toes, I revelled in the winter.  Odd as it may seem, as the years have passed, winter has become my favourite season in Beijing.  I love hiding myself under layers of under- and outerwear, scarves and hats and woollen socks over leggings over tights.  Summer is a season of exposure and vulnerability.  Even one’s pores are open.  Winter is all about concealment and impenetrability.  I like the way fresh snow hides the city’s dirty secrets and makes it beautiful and new again. (p. 110)

Our winters are not as extreme of course, but I love wearing soft hand-knits; sipping rich winter soups; walking along the beachfront watching a grey swell disappear into the horizon; and watching, from the warmth behind my windows, the wind hurl itself through our trees…

Summer in Beijing often jumps out from behind the curtain in early May like an overeager showgirl, shaking her feathers before getting hauled backstage again.  She tiptoes back out by the end of the month and in June the season is in full swing, with the odd intermission.  She launches into a full, raucous can-can in July and August, complete with those crazy showers and oppressive humidity.  As she winds down the show in September and October, thinning the peaches, fattening the grapes, withering the lotus flowers in the lakes and taking a paintbrush to the hills, people begin to feel nostalgic, speak of her in the past tense and sigh in anticipation of the long wait for her return.  (p. 111)

It’s intermission here in Melbourne as I write, and it’s quite nice – mild days with an occasional shower to save us having to water the garden.  But the oppressive heat will be back, I know it will, and I’ll be sighing in anticipation of the long wait for winter’s return…

Author: Linda Jaivin
Title: The Empress Lover
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins), 2014
ISBN: 9780732291273
Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books $29.99

Available from Fishpond: The Empress Lover


  1. Nope, my preferences haven’t changed. I love summer. It makes me feel alive. I don’t LOVE 40°C, but those days are few and they add colour to the experience!

    Next, I love autumn for lovely days and crisp mornings and evening BUT I really don’t like winter. I find the early nights oppressive, and because I like to go to concerts, movies, etc, I find being out in the evening miserable. I particularly hate the bulk of clothes. I refuse to wear and manage big coats – which is probably party why I find the evenings miserable :-) As for beaches on grey days – so dismal. Then again, I’m not a huge fan of beaches any time really, though looking over the sea from a nice restaurant is very appealing!


    • Does it get humid where you are? That’s what I especially hate about summer, and whereas humidity used to be rare in Melbourne, now with climate change it’s not.


      • No it doesn’t. I hate humidity too and avoid it like the plague. It’s the one thing that really bothered me about going to Singapore. It’s humid there all year round. I try to time my visit to places like, say, Japan or northern Australia to avoid humidity. It’s not just that I FIND it really unpleasant, but it does my skin in (as does dry cold). Eczema does not respond well to moist heat or dry cold, and Canberra’s cold is pretty dry. The places for me in Australia, really, are Adelaide and Perth.

        (Excuse the upper case FIND – my computer weirdly, unbelievably won’t let me write it in lower case. I can either writer find or fnd BIZARRE! Must ask the guru on his return from his volunteering job)


        • LOL I didn’t think you were shouting at me:)
          One tip: keyboards sometimes do odd things if they have a bit of dust trapped under a key. Or, if you are a biscuit nibbler like me, the odd crumb… Try tipping it upside down and giving it a good shake, and then use a soft paintbrush (like the ones in paintboxes) to dust in between the spaces as well.


          • Thanks Lisa … Yes, good idea, though I’m a bit more brutal and run a handheld vac over it my keyboard at times. In this case though I think something weird got into that comment box because I could write find I every other app. I must have hit a key that invoked some weird function that doesn’t like an “fi” function!


  2. Interesting take on winter – as I sit here hiding out in my layers of clothing, lol. I still prefer being vulnerable in shorts though.


    • Ah, you see, I can never wear shorts. I have to cover myself with fabric from neck to toe because I am one of those people that mosquitoes love, and I get a bad reaction to their bites. I loathe wearing repellent so covering up is my only option.
      But I don’t think I’d like winter much if I were snowed in.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] by Linnie, and these are the most successful and engaging sections.  As you may have seen from the Sensational Snippet I posted earlier, Jaivin’s observations about Chinese life then and now are profuse, […]


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