“The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze ChooThe Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Published: 2013 by William Morrow
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Source: TLC Book Tours
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In The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, a young Chinese woman navigates the boundaries between life and death as she approaches her wedding day.

After her mother died, Li Lan’s father neglected her social life, instead choosing to sit in his office and smoke opium.  Now Li Lan nearly eighteen, and her prospects for marriage are bleak.  Her family has no money because her father hasn’t been paying attention to his business since his wife’s death.  One day, a member of the Lim family offers a unique proposition.  Li Lan could marry their son, who recently passed away, and could live with them as his widow.  Ghost marriages are uncommon, and are usually made to fulfill a promise to a dying lover, not out of the blue.  Li Lan is understandably freaked out by the prospect, but she also knows that her family is in dire financial straits and that the marriage would mean she’d be taken care of.  While she’s at a party at the Lim manor, Li Lan meets a handsome stranger whom she immediately begins to fall for.  However, her dead wanna-be fiance keeps haunting her dreams, and Li Lan must navigate the worlds of both the living and the dead to free herself from his otherworldly influence.  Along the way, Li Lan unearths her family’s secrets.

So, The Ghost Bride was a really weird book.  I can’t say that I loved it, but I will say that it was rather unusual and stands out from many of the other books I’ve been reading recently.  The whole book is rather surreal, and reminds me rather strongly of the Hayao Miyazaki film Spirited Away (which I loved, don’t get me wrong).  Li Lan spends much of the book in the Chinese afterlife, where she’s in a limbo state that’s neither alive nor dead.  Because she isn’t a ghost, she perceives it differently than the spirits who populate it.  The afterlife is a parallel world, filled with corrupt border officials, heavenly courts, and nobles pretending to be servants to alleviate boredom and keep from passing on to the next realm.  Each spirit has possessions that are based on the amount of funeral offerings that their families burn for them, which influences the social hierarchies within the afterlife.

The part of the story that takes place in the real world is set in British Malaya, which was a cultural melting pot in 1893.  As such, we see a lot of different influences in Li Lan’s life.  Her father is very rational, and doesn’t believe in the world of spirits.  Her Amah, on the other hand, is very superstitious, and tells her about ghosts, mediums, and luck.  Then there’s Tian Bai, whom Li Lan has a crush on.  He’s Catholic, and has spent time abroad.  The different cultures that are present in Malaya are blended into the afterlife, and a man that Li Lan meets there mentions that he’s just passing through, because he’s not Chinese and therefore this isn’t his afterlife.

Rather than a love triangle, there’s a love quadrilateral going on in The Ghost Bride.  Normally I dislike love triangles (and other love polygons), but in this case I didn’t mind it.  The first suitor is dead, and Li Lan wants nothing to do with him because he’s creepy.  The second is someone she finds attractive, and spends most of the book pining over, despite the fact that they have little shared life experience.  The third love interest is a surprise, and I’m not gonna talk about him.

I’d recommend The Ghost Bride if you’re in the mood for something out-of-the-ordinary.  Yangsze Choo sculpts a Chinese afterlife that as fascinating as it is macabre.

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7 comments

  1. I read this last year – I didn’t love it either to be honest but I do think it was beautifully written and evocative. I suppose, for me, it was more that it wasn’t what I was expecting – which is a problem with me more than the book!
    Lynn 😀

    1. That’s it exactly! I was expecting historical fiction, not a surreal journey through the afterlife. If the cover/description/etc. would have described the book better, then it might not have come as such a shock.

      1. Seeing your comment makes me question how this ended up on the reading list for a Coursera module with the university of Virginia on historical fiction. I haven’t read it yet but I’m not that keen on the idea so much is set in an after life.

        1. I’d have been a lot more open to the supernatural elements if the marketing surrounding the book would have been a little more explicit about it. It does provide an interesting insight into Chinese beliefs about the afterlife, it’s just that it’s done in such an unexpected way that it ended up throwing me off a little.