The rules of fiction are made to be broken. Delve into literature’s past and there are many examples of experimentalism changing the landscape, doing something original that made writers think differently and encouraged readers to embrace something new. Maybe that’s what Tao Lin is attempting with his rambling sentences, his preference for telling rather than showing, and his almost endless repetition of scenes, situations, and punch lines. Maybe it also explains why he offers the most unspecific explanations of the scenes he paints, telling us there were ‘four to six people’ leaving a party, or that ‘a vague amount of time has passed’ between one event and another. Lin certainly doesn’t write to the kind of rules you learn in creative writing classes in this ‘story’ about Paul, a writer addicted to drugs and the internet. But then he doesn’t write to the kind of rules you learn from reading other books either. But does this matter? Tao Lin is currently generating the kind of hype that is reserved for maybe one or two writers every decade. He’s the new Beckett, the new Hemingway, the new Murakami, Bret Easton Ellis, and everybody else in between.
On the evidence of Taipei, Tao Lin seems to me to be more like a new ‘naughty school kid’. He’s breaking the rules, he’s making damn sure everybody knows about it, and he’s laughing in our faces while we lap it up. Occasionally, like most naughty school kids, he is also extremely funny. The moments in this book when Lin perfectly dramatises the internet age are often so funny that you might laugh loudly enough to fall off the toilet or get funny looks on the bus (honestly, I did neither of these things.) Some of the mistakes Paul commits, and the obsessions he develops, are so recognisable that they could be from your own life. This is where Lin gets you; this is where his hype almost seems justified.
Unfortunately, there are many other reasons to compare him to a naughty school boy. Taipei seems like the kind of novel that will have a few people watching it in awe, elbowing their friends in the ribs and looking at each other with wide eyes, but it also feels like the kind of novel that will fade once those few bursts of laughter have passed, many will look at it and roll their eyes, worrying about its future working in McDonalds or Asda. Taipei really has no legs, no staying power. It all seems like one long ‘look at me,’ I’m breaking rules and getting away with it.
Any Cop?: It would be good if somebody could go through this book and cut out the wonderful moments and sell them in a ten or twenty page special edition. For a 256 page book, Taipei feels far too long. Party after party after party, drug after drug after drug, social media faux pas after social media faux pas after social media faux pas. It often seemed like the novel was going to ascend to a higher level at some point, but it never did. Ultimately, if left me pretty sure I would avoid everything else he’s written.