Tony Parsons’ (“Man and Boy”, “Stories We Could Tell”) new novel is set firmly in Shanghai.
“My Favourite Wife” is the story of a lawyer who brings his young family from London to a well-researched Shanghai. Bill Holden lives in Gubei, works at a firm in the financial district of Pudong and entertains clients at Judy’s Too and The Peace Hotel. Perhaps taking his cues from a certain TV show about three hookers and their Mom, “My Favourite Wife” treats Shanghai as an inseparable part of the story. The city affects the lives of everyone who lives here, usually in the same way that a candle affects a moth.
At first puzzled, then fascinated, by the “Little Wife” (mistress) status of the young Chinese women he sees through the window of his apartment, the ‘hero’ gradually slips into a life torn between the family he loves, and the lady he bones on the side. It takes a strong author to make you feel both disgust and empathy (or even pity) for a man who cheats on his wife, but this book manages to do just that whilst taking in corrupt land deals, the worst excesses of expats, father-son communications, and some intelligent thoughts about what the Chinese boom means for the common man.
“My Favourite Wife” holds up a mirror to life in Shanghai that a lot of ex-pats will find hard to look at, but it had me subway-station-missing-hooked throughout and says more about the city than any guide book.