The words ‘earnest’ and ‘earnestly’ appear over forty times in Taipei; that they have need to be called upon with such frequency gives you some idea as to default register of Lin’s narrative. This is a novel forever at work to ironise its own posturing, though careful never to dissemble it completely, since, I would hazard, this is precisely what will appeal most to many of Lin’s Vice-reading readers. The book is crawling with some truly execrable sentences. ‘Um, so, my debit card, either from cutting so much blow or being maxed out, isn’t working,’ says Daniel at one point ‘with an earnest expression’. Such authorial affect is usually undercut soon after. At a Q&A following a public discussion on the subject of ‘the hipster’, of all things, Paul is pleased to note that most of the questions are addressed to him, ‘although almost all were negative and partially rhetorical, including why he kept writing after the ‘excrement’ that was his previous book.’ And so we come to a point where, it seems, variations on the theme of posturing and ironic distancing will play themselves out at a comfortable, contrapuntal rhythm.
But don’t reach for your slippers yet. To read on from here, confident we’ve caught the novel’s tonal rhythm, would be to ignore those destabilising, dissonant movements where the use of irony is itself disavowed. At one point, Daniel is surprised to find Paul listening to Rilo Kiley, a band he thought Paul had only joked about liking. ‘Paul said he wouldn’t pretend he liked something, or make fun of liking something, or like something “ironically”.’ Later still, though, when he and Daniel are listening to music, Paul ‘clicked “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service and said “just kidding.” He clicked “The Peter Crisis Jazz” by Don Caballero. He clicked “pause.”’ The characters in Taipei exist in a milieu where a certain style of self-consciousness, irregularly expressed in a need to place ironic distance between themselves and their emotions or actions (‘just kidding’), has a crippling effect upon all social interaction.