The narrator’s melancholic narrative is presented via a series of vignettes; some satirical, some epistolary, some flash-backs and some self-reflections, the narrator’s incessant brooding and self-absorption can at times wear thin, with the originality of their style at times being undermined by the streak of fatalism which underlies the narrator’s intense feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The narrator is a lesbian who resides in late 1980’s Taipei and the novel explores her relationship with the variety of misfits who meander through her life, attempting to break through the barrier of ennui and aloofness which she has constructed around herself. The people she loves are more symbols of her own neuroses and obsessions rather than being relationships she develops and cultivates, their relationship being punctured by a constant series of diatribes and monologues on pain and suffering. The slight issue her, irrespective of how powerful the emotional stories which the narrator is attempting to convey are, is that if all of the relationships in the novel follows this vein, then the reader loses the ability to empathise with the emotional journeys which the characters are going through.
Yet, despite all this, Miaojin’s style is jarring and startlingly original; her descriptions of Taipei range from the dour to the delirious and, not only that, but via the satirical descriptions of crocodiles which act as an allegory for the treatment of homosexuals in Taiwan, Miaojin is able to capture the experiences of individuals who were condemned to live on the fringes of society and whose existence would have otherwise remained undocumented.
A powerful and original, if at times flawed novel, the true tragedy of “Notes of a Crocodile” is that it represents the first steps of an artist who was just gaining their voice and vision before their live was tragically cut short.