I am late on this, as I read about Hu Wenliang’s “novel without words” only today; but I live in Italy and receive the TLS very late… so others have already discussed it: from the dismissing attitude of CHINAdaily
which concludes the article by “doubting Hu’s novel as hype” to the balanced report of BoingBoing, which notes that Hu “claimed that he spent one year to write the novel”.
Anyway, the whole novel, entitled , reads (?) as follows:
“ ‘……’ ”
The TLS, whose text is slightly different from the one above, taken from CHINAdaily, justly observes that this is a translation of the original, so I’m afraid we do not have a chance of winning the US$16,900 that Hu promised as a reward for the first correct interpretation (don’t ask me where he is going to get that money, not from this novel, which has been pirated all over the Internet and will probably not sell much). You want to try anyway and need a hint? It is “a special touching love story.”
After an admittedly superficial analysis I am inclined to exclude from the canon of Nonsense literature, though its five-line structure somehow reminds me of the limerick. It is difficult to gather the details (or I would claim the prize), but it is obvious that it starts with a question/problem, immediately followed by a strong statement, then a hiatus/suspension, a quest and a happy conclusion.
If you prefer a more detailed interpretation Jon @ Rogue Semiotics offers the best one I know, though I’m not sure his reading of “touching” was what the author meant.