The Ghost Bride

Yangsze Choo
The Ghost Bride Cover

The Ghost Bride


Just finished reading The Ghost Bride by Yangsze-Choo - talk about getting your last challenges in right on the last minute - this book is both my 100th book of the year and also my December read for Worlds Without End, Women of Genre Fiction reading challenge - can I just say what a great challenge the WoGF has been - sincerely I hope they hold this next year, I will be all over it if they do!

Anyway, moving swiftly on and away from my gloaty back patting self (the book review being the actual purpose of the post!) I do have mixed feelings about this book - which would probably resolve themselves if I had the chance to mull it over a little longer and really establish how I feel, but - deadlines are pressing - so, mixed feelings are what I'm going with on this occasion. Although, for clarity's sake I certainly didn't dislike this, just not quite sure about exactly what my emotions are at this point (did I love it, maybe not. Did I hate it - definitely not.)

The story is about a young girl, Li Lan, living in Malaya. Her mother has died and her father has retreated into the world of opium. As a result, and although she certainly doesn't seem to have suffered any hardship having been raised mainly by her very loving Amah, her future does not seem to have been taken care of in the traditional sense leaving her with no future marriage prospects. Her father's business has deteriorated, as you would likely imagine as he spends most of his time with cloudy eyes chasing the dragon, and, on top of that, he also seems to have run up considerable debts. Then along comes a marriage proposal of a most unusual nature. A very well to do family would like Li Lan to marry their son. Yes, it's the old 'attractive young girl marries into a wealthy family to save her own family honour' chestnut. Or is it? Before we all start jumping to those conclusions - there's a snag with this marriage proposal, just a tiny one, maybe not insurmountable to some - although I think I might object - the would-be groom has already passed away. Now, tell me that you're not intrigued!

I confess that going into this story I was expecting something different to what I actually felt I ended up reading. I think I went in with the notion of Li Lan actually becoming married in name only and seeing how this panned out. The story is slightly different than that so if you have the same expectations going in as I did then I'll just give you the low down right now to drop those and think along different lines. This story actually becomes a little more of a mystery with Li Lan spending a good portion of her time in the spirit world. Now, to a certain extent I loved that because for me that takes this book much more into the realms of fantasy than I ever expected, but, conversely I kind of wanted the story to follow the plotline I had in mind - my bad there I'm afraid, but I wanted to know how this whole married to a dead person would, or could, ever become a reality. I mean, obviously the person isn't physically there, but I had this idea of the young bride going to live with her new in-laws and coming to terms with this life and how that would end. I probably also expected a bit of ghostly visitations - I certainly didn't expect to spend a good portion of the book in the dead realms.

All that being said, this story is beautifully written, the attention to detail is wonderful with culture, religion, death and other ceremonies given great attention to detail. Really, the place and the traditions do come to life in this story. I admit that reading about other cultures is something I love to do and so in that respect I have such admiration for this author for writing in such a detailed way. In fact, for me, the biggest part of The Ghost Bride was the setting and culture. The people and plot line I felt took something of a back seat. I didn't necessarily dislike the characters but apart from Er Lang, who I couldn't help liking, I didn't have a strong pull to any of the others - in fact I would go so far as to say the characters were a tad predictable. Maybe not a bad thing in itself as this book isn't really marketed as a mystery story. I think the other slight issue that I had with this was that I never really had any fear for Li Lan or the eventual outcome. It felt a little like whenever she needed help it seemed to fall miraculously into her lap.

Now, that probably seems overly critical which I certainly don't want to be. This is a beautifully written and interesting story. The attention to detail is literally fantastic and once I realised that this was going to be different than expected I really enjoyed it. I think it's that 'thing' of going into a book with the wrong expectations and then spending most of the story waiting for it to go in the direction that you are expecting. Culture vultures will undoubtedly find this a great novel to pick up - however, if you don't want your 'culture' quite so liberally splattered with the realms of fantasy then take heed. However, if you want to read about such things as, for example, The Ten Courts of Hell, give this a go.

Also, the ending - can I just ask, did anybody feel that was a little bit rushed or is that just me!!

On the whole, a well written, intriguing book that I would recommend and I would without hesitation pick up more books by this author.