Ting-Kuo’s novel plays with these ideas of presence and absence. It’s split into four acts, with the coffee-shop present bookending the story of the relationship. The first and last sections are elliptical and strange – tenses slip around, conditionals blur into reality, and, though the story seems to be addressed to Miss Baixiu, it’s not clear that the narrator is even speaking to her... The effect is poetic, but disorienting – even the novel’s premise is more intelligible from the fly cover than from the exposition. The narrative solidifies into something more linear – and easier to follow – in the flashbacks; though the murky present and clear past are tied together by the simple loveliness of Ting-Kuo’s prose. Luo and Qiuzi talk “animatedly, like two fish sizzling in a pan”; her hair is “layered to a tapered end, like a fox gazing at snow on the nape of her neck”.