In my estimation, there is far too little genuine topolectal literature in China. Throughout history, nearly everything has been written either in one or another style of Literary Sinitic (Classical Chinese) or in the national koine / lingua franca vernacular (currently known as Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 [in Mainland China] / Guóyǔ 国语 [in Taiwan] / Huáyǔ 华语 [in Southeast Asian countries]), i.e., Mandarin.
I wish that there were vibrant, vital written forms for Hokkien, Shanghainese, Hakka, and many other varieties of Chinese, just as there are for Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya / Odiya, and so forth in India. Considering the plethora of spoken languages in China, I believe that the development of corresponding written languages for at least the major varieties would lead to mutual enrichment and invigoration, including of the national language. While there have been some sporadic efforts to write Taiwanese / Amoyese, a full-blown literary tradition has never developed for that language (see Sino-Platonic Papers #89, #92, and #172, as well as the works of Henning Klöter). There have also been occasional efforts to incorporate a few words of the local language in so-called Shanghainese literature, but it usually amounts only to a sprinkling of Wu lexical items in what is basically a Mandarin matrix. The situation for the other topolects is even less, with next to none or no written form at all.
It is only in Cantonese that there has been anything approaching true topolectal writing. I suspect that this has been possible mainly because of the special sociopolitical conditions that obtained while Hong Kong was a colony of the British Empire. Whatever the reason, I am always pleased when I learn of evidence that written Cantonese is clinging to life.
Consequently, I was delighted to learn about a recently published novel in written Cantonese, called naam4 jan4*2 m4 ho2 ji5 kung4 男人唔可以窮 ("A man Ought not Be Poor" or "A Man Must not Be Poor"). It’s interesting that the book originated in a series of posts on the popular HK web forum HKGOLDEN (gou1 dang1 leon6 taan4 高登論壇), which is part of a computer information portal.
Unsurprisingly, even though Hong Kong is supposedly a part of China, HKGOLDEN is blocked by the Great Firewall in the PRC. The forum is subject to severe hacking, and has periodically had to close for repair and maintenance, but when the forum is open it flourishes.
I haven't been able to find much about the novel in English, but was very happy to stumble upon this "Blog of Cantonese Resources" with an article entitled " New Wave of Cantonese Literature: HKGolden Literature". I recommend it heartily for basic information about "A Man Must not Be Poor" and several related novels.
This page in Chinese is quite informative.
This discussion page shows the enthusiasm with which Cantonese language literature is welcomed by readers.
Mandy Chan tells me that she has read several chapters of "A Man Must not Be Poor" and that it is written completely in colloquial HK Cantonese. She says that the storyline isn't quite her cup of tea, but she can see how it "resonates" with what is called din6 ce1 naam4 电车男 ("train man") type of guys. The latter notion derives from Japanese densha otoko 電車男 (movie, TV series, novel, manga, etc.), which was very popular in Hong Kong.
The din6 ce1 naam4 电车男 / densha otoko 電車男 ("train man") is akin to the zaak6 naam4 / taku otoko 宅男, i.e., otaku おたく/オタク.
Hong Kong street parlance tends to use gong2 naam4 港男 ("Hong Kong man") these days to denote the same category of Hong Kong men who are socially awkward and lacking in accomplishment, yet with a high degree of self-esteem. The gong2 naam4 港男's mortal enemy is the gong2 neoi5/2 (note change in tone from original Mid-low Rising 5 to High Rising 2 to indicate colloquial pronunciation) 港女 — Mammonish, controlling, loud (often foul-mouthed), socially aggressive, old-but-still-pretending-to-be-"cute" (kawaii) type of HK woman.
The duk6 naam4 毒男 (lit., "poison man") acts in an even more introverted fashion than the gong2 naam4 港男 ("Hong Kong man"), to the point of being a "weirdo".
Here is the relevant entry from the draft manuscript of the ABC Cantonese-English Dictionary by Bob Bauer:
.hw zaak6 naam4
clf 個 go3, 條 tiu4
en lit. house male; fig.; term was likely orig. borrowed from Jp. into TW. Man. in 2005 in connection with the broadcast of the popular Jp. TV drama 電車男 densha otoko 'train man'; term is similar in mng. to 毒男 duk6 naam4; sl.
see also 毒男 duk6 naam4
df nerd, geek, i.e. a young man who barricades himself in his room at home and spends most of his time surfing the internet on his computer, playing video games, avoiding face-to-face interaction and communication with other people, esp., women, and neglecting his physical appearance and personal hygiene
exrom keoi5 min6 hau2 ceng1 ceng1, jau6 ngan1 ngan1 sau3 sau3, wu1 tau4 gau3 min6, seng4 jat6 wat1 zyu6 hai2 uk1 kei5/2 m4 ceot1 mun4 hau2, seng4 tiu4 zaak6 naam4 gam3 fun2
exeng He's both sickly pale and unhealthily skinny, his hair is dirty and his face is oily, he shuts himself up in the house the whole day and doesn't come out, he's such a complete nerd
The author's name is sit3 ho2 zing3 薛可正. It's his pen name and very few people actually know what he looks like (the nature of the HKGOLDEN forum membership is rather secretive).
Sit's tale isn't altogether unique, because you can find many such stories on the HKGOLDEN forum, but one of the main differences with Sit is that he managed to finish the entire novel within a reasonable amount of time. The stories are written in episodes and it is very common for an author to let his tale peter out. Incidentally, it seems as though all the authors of the HKGOLDEN forum novels, at least the ones I know about, are males.
Mandy once listened to a radio interview with Sit, in which he said that the story is 70% "real" — meaning that it's not necessarily his own biography, but it does contain episodes and occurrences that have either happened to him or to people he knows. It seems that the reason Sit has been able to attract so many "train men" followers is because he is able to express their sense of helplessness and Ineffectualness. But he writes about other things too, like his relationship with his father.
While Sit's audience is made up of many gong2 naam4 港男 type guys, he isn't writing about them per se, at least his portrayal of the main character isn't about gong2 naam4 港男 vs. gong2 neoi5/2 港女 issues, yet because his storyline is about the psychological struggle against helplessness and ineffectualness, it resonates with many Hong Kong men. Having the story written out in Hong Kong street Cantonese is a big reason why the novel has received such disproportionate attention on the Hong Kong cultural scene.
Mandy is also writing a historical romance in street Cantonese, but it's not as easy as she thought it would be because she doesn't know how to write out some of the slang words, and she gets a headache when going over her own draft because she's not used to reading something that is written purely in Cantonese. I wish her luck in her novelistic project.
I should say a few words about the gong2 neoi5/2 港女 phenomenon more generally. Gong2 neoi5/2 港女 is not just about Hong Kong women, but a specific kind of Hong Kong women. The creation of this category has something to do with the sex-ratio imbalance in Hong Kong (more females than males). To compound the problem, many Hong Kong men of marriageable age prefer to "go north" (i.e., go to the mainland) to find their spouses. Their defense is that mainland ladies are more gentle and tender, etc. I suppose it's a matter of personal choice, but in doing so they put down HK women (at least that's the way the Hong Kong women perceive the situation). Because many Hong Kong women regard themselves as being mentally tougher, more independent, and less "scheming" than their mainland counterparts, the actions and speech of some Hong Kong men cause tremendous anguish among Hong Kong women. With the passage of time, it is no wonder that gong2 naam4 港男 and gong2 neoi5/2 港女 developed into oppositional terms as a way to address this Thurberesque war of the sexes.
Perhaps it is time for the gong2 neoi5/2 港女 to start writing their own Cantonese novels to defend themselves from the aspersions in all those written by gong2 naam4 港男.
[Thanks to Bob Bauer, Simon Pettersson, and Wicky Tse]