I picked up Ernest Bramah’s The Wallet of Kai Lung because reviews claimed that Bramah had the sly wit and overwrought style of Jack Vance, and Jack Vance stories set in ancient China are pretty much an instant buy. Unfortunately, the reviews overstated their case.

I can see where the Vance comparisons come from — Bramah does tend to write around the edges of a thing indirectly, with delightfully florid prose — but... Vance is just better at it. Bramah falls too often into the trap of being too indirect and too baroque, so that you end up having to re-read a paragraph to capture the meaning that eluded you the first time. And once you work through the style, the stories themselves are usually undistinguished and not particularly interesting.

I almost want to rewrite the above paragraph to be less negative, because I did like these stories tolerably well. If my too-high expectations were let down, it’s still not as if Bramah’s book was bad. But... this is a 170 page short story collection, and I wanted it to be over well before it actually was. When I’m reading a book that short, and wishing it were shorter, well, maybe some negativity is in order. If you do read this, I recommend taking it one story at a time, rather than all at once. You’ll lose nothing of narrative momentum, and I think the style’s better in small doses.


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