“Tse’s prose curls around Q like a vine, dropping him in landscapes that are equal parts Bosch and Freud, lush and deranged. Imagine an after-hours cut of Disney’s ‘Fantasia’; Alexander Portnoy on acid; a Losing Your Virginity theme park brought to you by Mephistopheles. . . . His vision of freedom remains private and acquisitive, whereas Tse suggests that real freedom—political, imaginative, and erotic—does not subjugate others; real freedom is democratic, a public and collective project.”—Katy Waldman, The New Yorker
In a city called Nevers, there lives a professor of literature called Q. He has a dull marriage and a lackluster career, but also a scrumptious collection of antique dolls locked away in his cupboard. And soon Q lands his crowning acquisition: a music box ballerina named Aliss who has tantalizingly sprung to life. Guided by his mysterious friend Owlish and inspired by an inexplicably familiar painting, Q embarks on an all-consuming love affair with Aliss, oblivious to the protests spreading across the university that have left his classrooms all but empty.
The mountainous city of Nevers is itself a mercurial character with concrete flesh, glimmering new construction, and “colonial flair.” Having fled there as a child refugee, Q thought he knew the faces of the city and its people, but Nevers is alive with secrets and shape-shifting geographies. The winner of a 2021 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant, Owlish is a fantastically eerie debut novel that is also a bold exploration of life under oppressive regimes.
- “[Owlish] is the literary equivalent of a house of mirrors, refracting and distorting shards of Hong Kong’s recent past. . . . A wildly inventive read.”—Louisa Lim, The New York Times Book Review
- “Though Ms. Tse alludes to a number of artistic influences . . . her writing most resembles that of Kazuo Ishiguro in its ability to render a strange allegorical fantasia in precise, formal prose. (The excellent translation from the Chinese is by Natascha Bruce.) But Owlish is sexier than Mr. Ishiguro’s books, in rich and discomfiting ways—a ‘folk tale,’ as Q imagines his reckless romance, ‘full of lust and passion.’”—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
- “Entrancing and otherworldly. . . . A protest fable that reveals many human truths, Tse's Owlish poses questions of desire and freedom under a punishing regime. The story lingers like a vivid dream bleeding into conscious life.”—Kathleen Rooney, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
- “There are books you read for knowledge, those you read for escape, those you read for enlightenment, those you read to be lost, those you read to be found, and then those you read again, and again. Owlish succeeds on all of these levels, with a reminder that perhaps the most powerful way to reject oppression is through imagination, and creation.”—Mandana Chaffa, Chicago Review of Books