The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo: DNF review

Rules for novels are more for writers than readers. If a novel is successful, I shouldn’t be thinking about whether or not the writer followed or subverted some set of rules. But one of those oft-repeated rules kept coming to mind while I attempted to read The Ghost Bride: show don’t tell.

While I’m sure there are many examples of successful novels that “tell” rather than “show”, this ain’t it.

The Ghost Bride defied my expectations from the beginning. The cover was giving me literary-fiction-lite vibes (for whatever reason, these ubiquitous “part of a woman’s face” covers suggest that it’s not quite chick lit but not quite major lit award material either.) But it quickly veered into romance territory, what with star-crossed lovers whose meet cute includes a case of mistaken identity, insta-love, and a dastardly villain. I adjusted my expectations accordingly, and settled in for a fun historical romance.

Then heroine Li Lan “died” and I was pleasantly surprised – killing off the main character on page 92 so she can actually enter the spirit world and check out these hungry ghosts and ghosts husbands and what not? Was Choo actually following that other oft-repeated rule, “kill your darlings?”

But no, Li Lan’s not really dead, she’s in a coma that for unexplained reasons allows her to interact with actual dead people, ghosts, demons, and other assorted entities. This felt like such a cop out I almost gave up here. But the spirit world stuff seemed like it could be interesting – plus, I read a Goodreads review that suggested we might get some human-dragon sexy times which I have nostalgic appreciation for, so I forged on.

And that’s where things really fell apart.

Choo reasonably expects that most of her readers won’t have much background in Chinese folklore, so she tells us all about it. Specifically, throw-away characters tell Li Lan about it. By the time I gave up on page 154, we’d been subjected to extended monologues from Fan, a hungry ghost awaiting the death of her lover; Willem Gavensvoort, a long-dead Dutchman who lives in a fountain (?) and Old Wong, Li Lan’s servant who is alive but can see her because of reasons. Then Li Lan’s follows a demon (?) around for a while, conveniently overhearing conversations that tell us *even more* about what’s happening and then the demon says “You can come out now” because, you see, he knew she was following him the whole time, har har, and I was DONE.

I’m guessing this dude might end up being the sexy dragon but I’m just so frustrated at how artless this all is, and BORING, nothing has happened in 50? 75? pages at this point. To paraphrase, all tell and no show make Laura… something something.

I could still see the Netflix series being good, though. The costumes, the setting, the dark brooding men… including Canadian Ludi Lin, equally known for being the black power ranger and for his six pack… I’m here for it.

Onwards, to more worthy 20 books of summer. Though, this won’t be my last DNF review of the summer… stay tuned!

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5 comments

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer 2019 | Reading in Bed
  2. whatsnonfiction

    I kind of love reading bad reviews, especially when they’re this funny! This sounds bizarre, and what a lazy mechanism of having characters conveniently pop in to tell the heroine what she needs to know. It cracked me up though, so thanks for that 😂 hope your next read is much better!

  3. BookerTalk

    Oh dear, I have this one on my 20booksofsummer list. Now I’m starting to think it will be one of those books that I never manage to finish. All that exposition about Chinese folklore would be the problem for me too

  4. Rachel

    Oh man this sounds a lot like Peony in Love by Lisa See – I was into it and then the main character died like 1/4 of the way through and the rest of it was from the perspective of a hungry ghost and it was all just Chinese folklore (really interesting stuff) dressed up as a narrative that fell flat on its face. This does make me nervous though as I plan to read The Night Tiger…

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