Contemporary Chinese literature can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, whether due to heavy doses of politics or surrealism; the subject might be obscure or the author self-consciously literary. However worthy these works may be, it comes as something of a relief, then, that Su Tong—of Raise the Red Lantern fame—stuck to good, old-fashioned storytelling in Petulia’s Rouge Tin, a novella just out as a Penguin Special.

Although “Subjunctive Moods” is the name of the second of the stories in CG Menon’s debut collection, it is apt for the entire collection. In grammar (albeit less so and increasingly rarely in English), the subjunctive is used when a condition of uncertainty or conditionality prevails; “if I were the author,” for example, “I might have chosen just this title.” Even a slight perturbation in reality can result in a different verb conjugation or, as it is called, “mood”. Most of Menon’s protagonists are none “too steady on their feet”, as two of them say of themselves, whether literally or as an existential condition: if lives could be conjugated, these would be in the subjunctive.

Bandes dessinées are a francophone tradition; to call them “comic books” is do to them a disservice. The English term “graphic novel” isn’t quite right either, since a bande dessinée might, as is this one, be non-fiction; and while the artwork in contemporary English-language comics is not as dire as it once was, the emphasis is, as the term implies, as often as not on “graphics” rather than work in traditional media.

The 2018 “Le French May” opened in Hong Kong with The Painting on the Wall from the Ballet Preljocaj. The inspiration for this new work is a Chinese fairy tale from the Qinq Dynasty-era Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, collected (not unlike the Brothers Grimm, except more than a century earlier) by Pu Songling and published posthumously in 1740.