The Flight to the Moon recounts a middle-class woman’s futile attempt to escape from her mundane life by cutting herself off from her previous social connections.
The story starts when a bus plummets off a cliff in a remote mountain area. One of the passengers, Xiaoliu, a 28-year-old woman on a solitary trip, mysteriously vanishes, her possessions left scattered around the scene.
The woman’s disappearance stirs up the undercurrents beneath the placid surface of people she associated with: her mother, husband, lover, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Declining to accept her death, her husband and lover start a journey of discovery, both gradually uncovering the secret sides of her character that were hidden under her apparent docility.
Xiaoliu’s life is not as satisfactory as it seems to be: she is a competent white-collar worker, very likely to get promoted, a bit lazy but still a dutiful wife with a caring and successful husband, a sweet friend with several close friends who often get together, and she has a charming lover who regularly dates her during her lunch breaks.
Yet anxiety over her limpid and mundane life overwhelms her so much that she chooses to completely cut herself off from all the social roles she used to perform and start a new life in a strange town with a fake identity. She tries different jobs in a supermarket, from selling cartoon-style headgear, to being a cleaner and check-out operator.
She enjoys the temporary peace she feels as a completely whole individual, rather than being known by others as one fragmented part of her social roles. Nevertheless, after the brief air of freedom comes the disillusionment: the mundanity and absurdity of life, though in a different form, surrounds her again in the new environment, reminding her that her battle is nothing more than a Sisyphean struggle.
“Every human may go through a time in their life when they struggle with existential problems. They keep questioning themselves with a series of fundamental questions, even though the act of questioning itself might turn out to be fruitless, exhausting and with no solution – that’s where the shadow of our common destiny lies. I want to write about this exhaustion and the futile but persistent attempt,” Lu told NewsChina.
The urge to escape spreads among urbanites like an epidemic, the writer points out. They are struggling with a crisis of self-awareness, she believes, as the sense of self has been encroached on by a high-functioning society and mundanity.
“Gender, name, location, accent, occupation, family, education, taste, habit, these sorts of things define a person but also confine a person,” she writes in the novel’s epilogue, “Should we accept the entire predestined ingredients and muddle along or break all the chains and paint a new draft?”
Lu told NewsChina that in the novel, she strives to create a utopia where the heroine can rid herself of the gravity of worldliness and morality and let the id flee away from its shackles, even though it later proves futile.
The title The Flight to the Moon alludes to the story of Lady Chang’e in Chinese mythology. The legend tells of a time when there were 10 suns in the sky, but an expert archer, Hou Yi, wielded a supernatural bow and shot nine needless suns down, for which he was bestowed an elixir of life by the immortals. The hero gave the elixir to his wife, a beautiful and virtuous girl named Chang’e, for safekeeping. But she accidentally swallowed the potion and floated away, toward the sky, finally becoming an immortal on the moon.
As an archetype, the legend has inspired a variety of artistic and literary works in later generations. In 1926, China’s great modern writer Lu Xun rewrote the myth into a short story, also titled The Flight to the Moon, giving his own take on the legend – that Chang’e chose to fly to the moon to run away from an intolerably monotonous life.
“Xiaoliu’s ‘flight to the moon’ is a defiance, just like for Chang’e, against a tiresome life. Perhaps whether the resistance eventually succeeds or fails is not important. But the process is of great importance,” commented Liang Hong, famed writer and professor of Chinese at the Renmin University of China.