Sunday, 22 December 2013
Author: Yangsze Choo
Source: local public library
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: August 2013
First Line: "One evening, my father asked me whether I'd like to become a ghost bride."
Book Description from GoodReads: "One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."
Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.
Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.
After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
My Review: This is one of those books where the book description on the cover doesn't match the book inside. What drew me to this book in the first place was the interesting storyline regarding a woman having to marry a ghost. I was intrigued by the cultural aspects of it and was expecting a mystery mixed with the folklore of a different culture. This is not the story I ended up getting in the end.
At the beginning of the book I was captivated by the rare cultural practice of marrying a live girl to a ghost. The book starts off quite strong and I was eager to find out more about this strange family and their hidden secrets. But once the story was set in the ghostly afterworld I soon lost interest. The plot plodded from there and the storyline became too convoluted and I ended up scanning passages in the hopes that the pace would pick up. Unfortunately that never and I ended up putting this book down about half way through.
The plot suffered about halfway through because so much detail had to be explained to the reader regarding Malayan beliefs/afterlife etc. The author therefore ended up describing and spoon feeding the reader instead of showing some of these beliefs which ended up slowing down the pace of the book considerably.
I can get through a complicated and even slow storyline if the protagonist is someone I can root for. Li Lan wasn't that kind of character for me because she was one-dimensional and rather boring. She seemed very meek and immature for a young woman of around 18 years of age. I never felt like I got a solid picture of her in my head and some of her choices and love notions seemed much more like a 13 year old girl, not a young woman. She was too trusting, naïve and things seem to fall into her lap instead of her being the protagonist and taking up the reigns of the story. She pines for a living man that she barely knows and I just couldn't buy it.
Some of the secondary characters, like the cook who sees ghosts and Li Lan's Amah were much more interesting but not used as much as I would have liked. Er Lang was an interesting character but his choice to ask Li Lan for help in figuring out what nefarious things are happening in the afterlife baffled me. Out of all the people/ghosts he could ask for help he asks a naïve, simple girl? I just didn't get it and by that point I really didn't care.
I lost interest in this book because I went into it eager to learn more about ghost marriages. It's a very interesting concept but the farther I read, the less it had to do with the ghost marriage and the more it had to do with the afterlife (which was muddled with a confusing plot and numerous characters who were hard to keep track of).
In the end, this book had an interesting premise but unfortunately suffered from poor execution. I was initially hoping this book had much more of a folklore feel to it but instead I got a fantastical, creepy read that was bogged down in too many details with a dull protagonist.
My Rating: 0/5 stars (I didn't finish it)