Book Review: Hong Ying’s K: The Art of Love

Posted June 15, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Hong Ying’s K: The Art of Love

K: The Art of Love

on November 1, 2002 and has 262 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

This is a fictional story about real-life people: Julian Bell and Ling Shuhua.

My Take

I suspect it’s a cultural difference, but I did not find K: The Art of Love to be erotic. Primarily because I thought Julian Bell was a naive, selfish, egocentric “boy” playing with people. He wanted what he couldn’t have, and as soon as he could have it, he didn’t want it.

As far as I’m concerned, there was no loss to the world when he died. His family? Yeah…

My father-in-law was an artist and acquainted with the Bloomsbury group, and he wasn’t impressed with them or their art. I suspect it was the art, or how it was applied all over the house, that was his main bone of contention with them. I haven’t paid much attention to their personal lives as I’ve been more fascinated by the art — and how it was applied all over the house…*grin*…and the bits of Hong Ying’s story that touches on the Bell/Woolf/Fry household help me understand better why Dad wasn’t inspired by them. A group of people caught in the public eye who felt they had to continue to live up to their professed philosophies, however much it hurt.

Julian was probably typical of celebrity kids who feel a need to be as good as their parents, and I suspect he struggled all his life between feeling like the golden boy and wondering if he was any good. He definitely absorbed a sense of superiority from his extended family and believed anything that was dissimilar to what he (or his family) considered quality was inferior or childish. He was more interested in play than reality — wait’ll you get to his foray onto the battlefield, oh brother — and he was extremely quick to interpret people’s actions as he pleased without any input from them. And then base his decisions upon his interpretations.

Hong Ying’s focus, though, is on the sexual side of the Bell philosophy with Julian unable to comprehend the wrongness of his selfish actions. It’s odd, Hong Ying, in his introduction, hoped that the reader is able to feel the eroticism of his story. Unfortunately, it failed for me. Yes, the erotica is there, but I found the Daoist philosophy about sex more interesting than reading about a sexually frustrated woman eager to apply the Daoist teachings from the Jade Chamber Classic, “a legendary ‘Art of Love'”, with a self-absorbed young man who is too terrified of the future — and doesn’t sound like he’s any good in bed. Then there’s their insta-love for which Ying doesn’t provide a reason. It’s more as if he needs to have them get together, so, voila.

Julian suddenly decides he wants to kiss this married Chinese woman who has not indicated any interest in him, and when she jumps when he puts her hand on his [trouser-clad] cock, this is his reaction:

“Julian was nonplussed. Had he moved too fast? Was it his erection that had frightened her?”

The writing is stilted in parts and chunks of it sway between show and tell with a sense of being part of an outline that never got filled in, but I believe some of the stiltedness is due to English being Hong Ying’s second language.

To be honest, I found this story dumb and annoying. I loved seeing this snapshot of the China of 1936 and how people lived, the different beliefs. Now if only we could have explored it without Julian getting in the way.

The Story

Julian Bell has received a invitation to teach at a Chinese university in Wuchang where he meets Lin Cheng, the wife of the dean of his department. A woman with whom he is almost instantly fascinated and pursues in spite of her reluctance.

A reluctance that falls away into an affair.

The Characters

Julian Bell is the son of Vanessa and Clive Bell of Bloomsbury fame; he’s rude, selfish, quick to “defend his turf”, and a child in a man’s body. A renowned poet, he alternately basks in and questions his abilities even as he subconsciously appears to seek his own death.

Lin Cheng (in real life, Ling Shuhua) is a renowned Chinese writer, the editor of the Wuhan Daily Literary Supplement, and the wife of Professor Cheng, the dean of the School of Arts. Both are part of the New Moon Society.

Wizard and Vole — his names for the two servants who come with the house the university has found for him.

Sir Harold Acton is teaching at Peking University. Yi is the Chinese student Julian inveigles into helping him find the Red Army so Julian can play revolutionary. Too bad he’s so clueless about the truth of war.

The Cover and Title

The cover at first appears to be a pale pink fabric with handpainted blossoms descending from the upper left and a large “K” embroidered in the center, but when you really look, it’s a woman’s naked backside from shoulders to just below her buttocks.

The title references both Julian and Lin with “K” representing where Lin stands in the line-up of Julian’s lovers and the art of love being Lin’s Daoist philosophy combining to create K: The Art of Love.


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