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The Hungry Ghosts [Paperback]

Anne Berry
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Mar 2010

A novel for those who loved Behind the Scenes at the Museum, The Poisonwood Bible and The Lovely Bones.

Raped then murdered in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong in 1942, Lin Shui’s ‘Hungry Ghost’ clings tenaciously to life. Holing up in a hospital morgue, which is destined to become a school, just in time she finds a host off whom to feed. It is twelve-year-old Alice Safford, the deeply-troubled daughter of a leading figure in government. The parasitic ghost follows her to her home on the Peak. There, the lethal mix of the two, embroiled in the family’s web of dark secrets and desperate lies, unleashes chaos. All this unfolds against a background of colonial unrest, riots, extremes of weather and the countdown to the return of the colony to China. As successive tragedies engulf Alice, her ghostly entourage swells alarmingly. She flees to England, then France, in a bid to escape the past, only to find her portable ‘Hungry Ghosts’ have accompanied her. It seems the peace she longs for is to prove far more elusive that she could ever have imagined.

‘The Hungry Ghosts’ is a remarkable tour de force of the imagination, full of instantly memorable characters whose lives intermesh and boil over in a cauldron of domestic mayhem, unleashing unworldly spirits into the troubled air.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Door; Reprint edition (18 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007303386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007303380
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 12.7 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 259,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anne Berry was born in London and spent her childhood in Aden and Hong Kong where she was educated. She worked for a short period as a journalist for the South China Morning Post, before returning to Britain. After completing a three-year acting course, she embarked on a career in theatre, playing everything from pantomime to Shakespeare. Her first novel, The Hungry Ghosts, was shortlisted for The Commonwealth Writers' Prize and The Desmond Elliott Prize. She now lives in Surrey with her husband and four children.

Product Description


' [A] stunning debut. A schoolgirl in Hong Kong is haunted by the ghost of a murdered Chinese girl in this story of broken family, and its hidden secrets and lies.' Woman and Home

“A stunning debut…Epic in scope and voice…so skilfully crafted, and the writing so elegant, it’s hard to believe it is a first novel.” The Globe and Mail

'[A] brilliant, brittle portrayal of colonial Hong Kong and vividly cruel series of first-person narratives’ Psychologies

'The vivid, sensory depictions of Hong Kong circa 1970 ignite this almost unrelentingly sad story, and Berry’s easy way of switching between different narrative voices from chapter to chapter is impressive.' The List

Book Description

Family lies and family secrets unleash... THE HUNGRY GHOSTS

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly brilliant 31 May 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
For once you have to agree with the comments on the cover. This is indeed a stunning first novel; so original and cleverly written. Here is a new type of ghost story, one written from many perspectives...I lost count of the number of narrators - not that detracts from the story. It is truly hard to describe this book as it is unlike any I have read before. Yes, there are elements of "Lovely Bones" and "Poison wood Bible" but don't be lulled into thinking it is in either of those genres.

The story, which ranges over 6 decades has pace and detail in abundance and the emotions ebb and flow. The descriptions of colonial Hong Kong and the interactions between the British rulers and the various the locals is stark. Ultimately the story reaches a climax that is both sad and satisfying.

There is just one element to this book that worries me - there are many characters (both living and dead) portrayed here and, to be honest, there's not a sympathetic one amongst them. I like novels where you can at least identify with someone along the way - here ALL the characters are unlikeable. Maybe something that Anne Berry needs to think about for future work. A great first effort though.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and very unusual 19 Jun 2009
The Hungry Ghosts in the title of this debut novel are part of Hong Kong culture.

In Hong Kong, the Hungry Ghost Festival is a major Buddhist and Taoist event. Hungry ghosts are the restless spirits of people who did not have a funeral. There is no one visiting their graves and they do not receive the gifts that Chinese people would take to their ancestors to pay respects. They miss out on food and spirit money.

To stop the ghosts causing problems for the living, many communities provide them with food to appease them. The ghosts feed first but the food does not disappear. Then the living eat the offerings and pray for good luck.

Every year the Chinese people believe that the gate of hell will open and ghosts are allowed to roam the earth during the lunar month. During July / August , Hungry Ghost festival or "Yue Lan" takes place in many areas in Hong Kong. In each area, it lasts three days.

The novel opens in Japan occupied Hong Kong in 1942 when a young girl is raped and murdered by a Japanese soldier - her body is pushed over a cliff and never found - she then becomes a Hungry Ghost and for many years she hovers around a morgue before finding her `host' - Alice, the daughter of a British Government official. Alice is something of a lost soul too - her Mother has never loved or cared for her, her two older sisters are more interested in their social lives and her brother more interested in food.

Alice is accompanied by Ghost throughout her life - as she struggles with school and family relationships, as she watches the break-down of her parent's marriage and eventually when she flees the island to live in England.

Along the way - Ghost is joined by other demons from Alice's.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stangely moving 15 April 2011
By it's OK
I'm really not the type to write reviews, even though I purchase most of my books through amazon and read one or two books a week, but I feel compelled to to state how moved I was by this book and how much sympathy and empathy I have for the character Alice (not that I have a Chinese girl, dead dog and headless budgie following me around!!)Just someone who has never quite fitted in. A beautiful story that will stay with me for a long long time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is an odd book that defies categorisation. It begins well enough during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, but apart from strong initial scene setting - I very much enjoyed the descriptions of Hong Kong and the different locales - becomes a tale of an English family that could have taken place absolutely anywhere. In fact, as soon as the action shifts away from Hong Kong the book becomes quite dull. The Safford family members are not supposed to be particularly likeable individuals, but I found it difficult to remain interested in them and their dysfunctionality. The constantly shifting points of view did not help at all and I would say contributed to my inability to identify with any of them. The main character Alice was very odd, and not just because of the ghosts that haunt her. It is difficult to understand what she wants or what motivates her.
Much has already been said about the ghosts. I was willing to suspend disbelief and went along with the main ghost, finding her believable, but the appearance of the other ghosts in quick succession was, I felt, stretching the device too far. The ghostly ménage follows Alice about like a bunch of broken down toys in a Disney movie (Toy Story?) and are a distraction.
Although this is certainly a well-written and imaginative book, its main strength was its portrayal of expatriate life in Hong Kong during a particular era. I did not care about Alice or her predicament, or whether or not she can overcome her demons (ie ghosts) and I cared still less about the rest of her bizarre family.
Three stars overall, although the quality of the writing deserves four.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting, provocative story. 24 Mar 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
What a book this is!! It is a dark tale of lives entwining, crossing over the barrier of death and merging with the living. It tells of a British family in Hong Kong living the high life - the father is a government official, and their lives are a round of parties, dinners, social niceties, and days on their boat. The Safford family seem to have it all, Father Ralph is a handsome, well-liked and well-respected public figure. His wife, Myrtle, is the ultimate trophy wife, floating around all day in silks and satins, being waited on hand and foot, and producing the requisite perfect family, children Jillian, Nicola, Harry, and Alice. However, behind the perfect facade, the Saffords are a truly dysfunctional family. There is so much jealousy, animosity, lying, cheating, and utter contempt for others hidden away, just waiting to burst out. Alice is the trigger, and the whole story centres around her. Lin Sui is a chinese girl who is brutally raped and murdered by a soldier, and who refuses to let go of 'life'. She needs a host body, and finds Alice. Between them, they cause chaos and confusion, and ultimately, everything erupts, splitting the Saffords wide apart. The repercussions of Lin Shui's occupation of Alice are far-reaching, and we travel through the handover of Hong Kong back to the Chinese, seeing the lives of the Saffords' disintegrate, and watching Lin Shui's power over Alice. The denouement, when it comes, is unsettling to say the least.
Ultimately, the question becomes not whether Lin Shui needs Alice, but whether Alice needs Lin Shui.
I found this book to be thoroughly absorbing, loved the descriptive powers of the author, and found that I could actually 'see' the colours that she described, her writing was so good. It is a well-written, well-researched, well-presented book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend it whole-heartedly. A triumph.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing
Takes you into another world - a good read. Interesting style of writing: each character is dealt with separately - their views and feelings are presented separate from the others... Read more
Published 6 months ago by lucky8england
4.0 out of 5 stars Brutally beautiful
Anne Berry's The Hungry Ghosts is a stunning debut, brilliant in the seamless intricacy of a story that plays out over a 60-year period, beginning with the brutal Japanese... Read more
Published 15 months ago by OEJ & SKY
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Views
Some aspects of this novel I loved. The descriptions of life in colonial Hong Kong were really good, and the attitudes of some middle-class ex-pats to their servants and... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Avid reader
3.0 out of 5 stars An empty vessel
With its multiple narrators and its extended timeframe, Anne Berry's novel is one of those books you'll either fall into or find yourself drifting away from. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Trevor Willsmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic! A Must Read!
This is an enthralling read from start to finish. I have bought it as a gift for all my friends. A must read and an excellent first work from Anne Berry.
Published on 20 Dec 2011 by Fiona
4.0 out of 5 stars Hungry for More
Hungry Ghosts is a fantastic gothic tale with an exotic twist. For those expecting this novel to read like a J horror film of maurauding and sinister spirits dooming the living... Read more
Published on 23 Dec 2010 by Scriber_scouse
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, imaginitive and incredibly well written
The extraordinary story of two girls, Alice, youngest daughter of a member of the colonial Hong Kong British government and the wife who only wanted to provide her husband with her... Read more
Published on 16 Oct 2010 by Jo Bennie
2.0 out of 5 stars the story of a heroine dogged by misfortune who is never really...
This book tells the story of a character inhabited by multiple ghosts. It is told from the viewpoint of one of the ghosts and several other characters. Read more
Published on 9 Sep 2010 by coachhseh
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual holiday read
Took this away on holiday. Found once I got into it, which does take a little doing, gripping.
Published on 15 Aug 2010 by M. Duffy
2.0 out of 5 stars Without substance and a little annoying
Alice is the odd man out of the expat family, living in Hong Kong in the 60s and 70s and she has a tag-along ghost, who died in Hong Kong many years before. Read more
Published on 19 July 2010 by Louise Amkaer
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