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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Book Review: 'The Ghost Bride' by Yangsze Choo


All my book reviews seem to be for scary stories. Anyone wanna give me something a little lighter? Nah, I don’t mind really – especially since both of the books I’ve reviewed so far have been excellent. You may remember my previous post about Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride. Hot Key Books, the publishers, were kind enough to send me a reviewer’s copy of the text so I ended up being able to read it sooner than I’d anticipated. The book will be out on August 1st and you can buy it here.  

The story begins with Li-Lan’s father asking her if she would like to be a ghost bride – that is, asking her if she would like to marry the spirit of the late son of the wealthy Lim family. To those who aren’t superstitious, this might not seem like the worst option, especially because her father's debt leaves Li Lan’s prospects unpromising – marrying the spirit of Lim Tiang Chin would allow Li Lan to live, completely provided for, as a widow in the Lim household. That said, without superstition, there’d be no story and, soon after the proposal is made, the sinister Lim Tiang Chin begins haunting Li Lan’s dreams. Li Lan is pulled into the after world and must find her way out before she ends up trapped there forever.

Choo plays with the idea of sanctuary to create a constantly eerie atmosphere: by invading even her dreams, Lim Tiang Ching takes away the little personal space Li Lan has left. In this story full of tradition and superstition anything can happen – there is no clear line between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘supernatural’ and so debt collectors, marriage suitors, and hell demons are all feared at once. As Li Lan travels through the after world, there is a constant sense of foreboding: Choo’s silky prose wraps beautiful details around you, leaving you enthralled by her world, but also intensely aware that it could all be taken away in a second. After all, as Li Lan’s elderly cook warns her: ‘ ‘There are many evil things abroad, many ghosts who mean harm to the living and will try to trick you.’ ’[i]

Many of the reviews I have read for this book praise how transporting and exotic the story is. Given my obsession with fairy and folk tales, though, what really interested me as a reader was not the exoticism of the story, but the familiarity of it. There is something extremely reassuring, and also exciting, about seeing the same character tropes and story shapes appearing in tales from all over the world, and from throughout history. To me, it shows that, as humans, we all usually have the same fundamental needs and desires - no matter where or when we are from. Li Lan, who has lost her mother to smallpox and her father to an opium addiction, finds surrogate parent-figures in the family servants; she is seduced by tricksters; and she must make the most crucial decision of all: between behaving responsibly and following her heart.

The Ghost Bride isn’t like any other book I’ve read. This could be because I don’t often read historical fiction, but I suspect it’s more because it explores fresh subject matter. You should definitely check it out.

If you are an author or publisher and would like me to review your book, please get in touch via Twitter or leave a comment below.










[i] Quote taken from advance copy and may appear differently in or be omitted from final text. 
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