- Historical Fiction
In the turbulent final years of the Yuan Dynasty, Wang Meng is a low-level bureaucrat, employed by the government of Mongol conquerors established by the Kublai Khan. Though he wonders about his own complicity with this regime, he prefers not to dwell on his official duties, choosing instead to live the life of the mind. Wang is an extraordinarily gifted artist. His paintings are at once delicate and confident; in them, one can see the wind blowing through the trees, the water rushing through rocky valleys, the infinite expanse of China’s natural beauty.
But this is not a time for sitting still and, as The Ten Thousand Things unfolds, we follow Wang as he travels through an empire in turmoil. In his wanderings, he encounters, among many memorable characters, other master painters of the period, a fierce female warrior known as the White Tigress who will recruit him as a military strategist, and an ugly young Buddhist monk who rises from beggary to extraordinary heights.
In The Ten Thousand Things, John Spurling endows every description – every detail – with the precision and depth that the real-life Wang Meng brought to his painting. But it is also a novel of fated meetings, grand battles and riveting drama, and in its seamless fusion of the epic and the intimate, it deserves to be compared to the classic Chinese novels that partly inspired it.The Ten Thousand Things is nothing short of a literary event.
‘It has the sort of sensual prose that makes the reader purr with delight and is surely destined to be one of the books of the year’ The Daily Mail
'Spurling has mastered many aspects of Chinese history and legend' Times Literary Supplement
‘Told by Wang from the cell into which he has been thrust in his old age, the story of his career becomes an intelligent, graceful meditation on the difficulties of reconciling spiritual life with the material world’ The Sunday Times
'I've never read anything like it...Great feats of scholarship and imagination have gone into making these people, so distant from us in space and time, live' Literary Review
'This intricately wrought study of medieval Chinese scholar-artists is wonderfully well imagined' The Spectator
'It is ostensibly a historical novel, but Spurling has in fact written a love letter to Chinese art' New Statesman
‘This is a remarkable novel that deserves to be read slowly and savoured as one would a stunning landscape or a beautiful painting' Herald Scotland
'Those who appreciate a subtle, thoughtful narrative, and are willing to engage with the kind of philisophical questions that are as relevant today as they were in 14th-century China, will relish every page of it' BBC History
'Spurling’s approach feels perfectly attuned to his subject, and one can pay no higher compliment than to say that on finishing the novel it is hard to believe that the work is anything other than the lost manuscript of the great Wang Meng himself' Asian Review of Books
'Spurling's historical novel is a rare treasure...Even a reader who starts out with no interest in China or Chinese artists will be sure to return to this story over the years, as its truths remain timeless' South China Morning Post Review
'The Ten Thousand Things is a curiously refreshing and delightful book, and I suspect I shall reread it more than once in future years' The Temenos Academy Review
‘In this immersive tale of a landscape artist’s life, written with restrained lyricism, John Spurling has also given us an entertaining and insightful study about the art of nature, and the nature of art’ Tan Twan Eng, author of The Garden of Evening Mists
'This is an extraordinary novel. Spurling brings together his strengths as a dramatist, an art critic, and a novelist. It is an impressive combination that gives a tone of authenticity to his absorbing story and adds to its enjoyment. I look forward to the film' Michael Holroyd, author of A Book of Secrets
'I was amazed by The Ten Thousand Things, and by John Spurling’s powerful imagination—with ten thousand details, he has brought the ancient Chinese artist Wang Meng to life in beautiful prose' Xinran, author of Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love
‘A truly remarkable achievement . . . Absorbing, tender, and profound . . .Anybody who feels despondent about the future of fiction should read and take heart from this extraordinary and wonderful book' Miranda Seymour, author of Noble Endeavours and In My Father’s House
‘An enormous pleasure from start to finish’ Rachel Billington, author of Maria and Emma and Knightley
'Wang Meng is one of the most fascinating figures in Chinese history. In this lucid and brilliant novel, John Spurling uses him as a key character to recreate the end of an empire. A vivid evocation of a turbulent era with echoes of debates today about loyalty, choices, and artistic integrity' Rana Mitter, author of Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945 and presenter, Nightwaves (BBC)