Undoubtedly one of the nation’s few drug novels, Harvest Season is unequivocally China’s answer to Alex Garland’s The Beach. Chris Taylor covers a lot of same ground as Garland: we the get the clueless backpackers trying to set up their own Shangri-la, but are too short-sighted to see though their own dope smoke, let alone start paradise; the awkward love triangles amongst acquaintances pretending to be friends; and, there are, of course, a couple of dead bodies thrown in for measure.
Taylor’s novel is set in around the mountains of Dali, Yunnan Province. Though a far cry from the techno-hedonism of the Thai islands, Taylor clearly knows his subject and his descriptions of this small mountain town, and the eccentric cast of people that reside within it, are pitch perfect. But whereas, Garland wrote about his characters with a schoolboy-ish sense of excitement, Harvest Season is more misanthropic, and an impending sense of doom constantly lurks on the book’s pages.
The book follows the clash between two sets of foreigners, as they arrive in Dali and start to upset its natural balance. First, there are the long term expats who want to sip their Tsingtao’s, smoke their spliffs, and be left alone to set up their second rate businesses that are doomed to failure. Then there are the newbies: a gaggle of new-age druids that arrive in Dali with hopes of communal living and other hippyish ideals. While the novel marginally sides with the long- termers, Taylor takes great delight in skewering the madness of the wannabe druids. Ultimately both sides lose out, and are turfed out by the town’s traditional Chinese residents. At this level the book serves as a warning of sorts to foreigners in China: you can only get your own way so far, but push your luck and it will all end badly.
While the book starts as if it is going to be a relaxed beach-type read, it turns sharply and develops an increasingly sinister edge–a must read for anyone who questions what on earth they are doing in China.