Original date of publication: 1932
My edition: 1989 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, November 2011
Peking Picnic is one of Virago’s lesser-known titles, by one of their lesser-known authors (and sadly, never reprinted; Ann Bridge’s novels are incredibly hard to find). Ann Bridge was the pseudonym of Mary Dolling Sanders. She later married a Foreign Office official, whose work took their family to China. The brief time they spent in China informed the plot of Ann Bridge’s first novel.
Peking Picnic is the story of Laura Leroy, wife to a British attaché in Peking. She is an active participant in Peking life, but misses her children, who are back in England at school. One day, she and a few acquaintances take a trip to a nearby temple. Laura plays fairy godmother, of sorts, to several of the young lovers on the trip, but finds herself intrigued by another member of the party.
Ann Bridge’s writing is lyrically poetic. Laura Leroy is a difficult character to get to know because she isn’t easily classifiable. She’s an idealist, but a realist at the same time. I loved the author’s descriptions of China, especially the difference between the Westerners and Chinese.
I can’t help but compare this novel with Emily Hahn’s memoir of China, which is as different as different can be; Peking Picnic was written when WWII was still a ways away, and there’s an idyllic quality to this novel that makes it quite beautiful to read. Emily Hahn’s memoir focuses on facts; Peking Picnic focuses on ideas. The plot isn’t the strongest point of the book, however; there’s a scene with bandits that I didn’t find so believable. But in all, I enjoyed this novel.