12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 31 May 2009
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.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
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.
Each chapter of the story is narrated by a different character including Alice's parents, siblings and Ghost. Often each character will tell of the same event but with their own take on it.
The Hungry Ghosts is more a story of dysfunctional family life and the effects of certain behavior on a whole family. At times, I felt a little overwhelmed by the different characters but at other times I was almost moved to tears by the description of mental illness, trauma and life in general.
This is a very well written book and is extremely hard to catergorise. I found it a very compelling read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 July 2010
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2011
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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 then those readers may be disappointed but for anyone else interested in a gorgeously depicted, languid and disturbing novel about a twelve year old who is possessed by the Hungry Ghost of the title, who was herself a rape and murder victim, then they don't come much better than this debut novel.
Comparisons to Lovely Bones are valid and do not over exaggerate, as this is a very lyrical and absorbing tale with multiple narrators that spans several countries and six decades. The plot can meander in places, the time periods can be confusing as it jumps back and forth and it can at times become murky with multiple narrators but if you have the patience to stick with it then you will be rewarded with a novel that stays with you long after the final page. Personally although some of the characters were it's fair to say unlikeable what stuck with me was the portrayal of the rich and varied Chinese culture.
I would recommed for any patient reader who values substance and freshness over cheap thrills.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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 son, and the girl who haunts her, the ghost of Lin Shui, a young virgin raped and murdered by a Japanese occupying solider during World War II 20 years earlier. Alice is a ghost to her own family, unwanted by her mother, adored by her father, largely absent and unable to protect her from the increasing hostilities of her sisters and mother, and held accountable for the action of Lin who is drawn to Alice's life force and loneliness and moves and destroys objects around her as a misplaced act of affection. As colonial rule in Hong Kong is rent asunder by civil unrest and Alice and her family are exiled to England, a country that has never been home to them, Alice's entourage is swollen by further restless spirits. Berry handles the entire narrative beautifully, even Alice's monstrous mother is comprehendable in her own pain and reasons for the mental and physical torture she deals out to Alice, an amazing book of aching sadness.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2010
This is the story of Alice, a young girl growing up in a secretly dysfunctional family in Hong Kong during the last years of British rule. Alice has a lot to contend with in her life, but initially it's the effects of her familial relationships, and the damage those unacknowledged dynamics create, that make her susceptible to the `hungry ghosts' who become her ghostly entourage. Most notable among them is Lin Shiu, a young girl who is raped and murdered during the Japanese occupation, but clings to this world feeding off her host Alice.
Each chapter is narrated by a different character, and the multiple perspective style is well done. It has a certain charm about it; the narrative flows, it's well written, easy to get into, and I wanted to see where the story was going to take unfortunate Alice. I particularly liked the family dynamics that provided the undertones of the novel, and the role of the ghosts in her life. For me this latter device worked on two levels: first as supporting characters and second as metaphors, which I think was cleverly done.
However, through each semi-tragic event in Alice's life, there is very little lightness, and the overall result is rather depressing reading. It didn't feel like I was being emotionally manipulated per se, but it failed to provide any real contrast so each successive episode just added to the existing bleakness with no relief. I also didn't really identify with any of the characters, but perhaps that was because there wasn't enough light and dark in the story for me to see different sides to them.
Overall I would recommend it to most people, but those who don't like depressing tales should avoid it. If you've happened upon this novel because of the comparison to the lovely bones then I will just mention that this one doesn't (in my opinion) have an underyling uplift, and if that's what you liked about the lovely bones, you may end up disappointed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Hungry Ghosts is a haunting and evocative novel, with an ambitious narrative. Anne Berrys writing is compelling, and the book is a pleasure to read.
The book flows pleasantly from one character to another, slowly piecing together the story. Revolving around the enigmatic Alice and her attendant ghost, the ghosts story starts and ends the book, and is the readers main guide to the events which unfold. The relationship between Alice and the ghost is never clear, as events are described only from the ghosts perspective, but this one-sided viewpoint works very well, and unlike some other reviewers i found that the novel worked better for keeping Alice at a distance.
The book may well frustrate those looking for a very clear cut story, as it meanders through the culture clash between east and west, and no character can be said to be truly good or truly bad, just realistic flawed people, absorbed in their own selfish lives.
The novel is set against the rich backdrop of post-war Hong Kong, from the perspective of the Safford family, who suffer the fate of never being truly at home there, and the families misfortunes mirror those of British rule.
In terms of comparison the novel is fairly unique, but there are echoes of Burmese Days, and faint traces of novels such as Rice Mother.
The Hungry Ghosts is a clever and atmospheric book, soaringly ambitious, it almost is a great book, but is let down only slightly by the off menagerie of ghosts which attach themselves to Alice as the story progresses, perhaps the author intended them as some kind of comedic device, but they serve only to detract from the story.
The Hungry Ghosts is about life and death, east and west and what comes between. Much more than a ghost story.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Beginning with the murder of Lin Shui, Anne Berry takes the reader on a great adventure following the Safford family through much of their time on Hong Kong Island during its British occupation. We meet Ralph, a well respected government official working for Queen Elizabeth II, his wife Myrtle and their four children Harry, Jillian, Nicola and the much haunted Alice.
I loved learning about Yue Lan, the Hungry Ghosts' Festival, the history of Hong Kong Island and its handover back to China from the UK as well as the relationship between the unlikeable characters and Alice's ghosts. There were a couple of things that bothered me including the mention of Ralph's sister who has a prominent role in Alice's apparent disappearance as she is not mentioned again until near the end of the book. The second thing was Alice's inability to see her ghosts until a certain point. Alice never tells her story though and it is a unique point of view having a ghost describe her feelings.
The format with each chapter following the point of view of a specific character made this book easy to read and with so many different topics including rape, murder, abortion, affairs and mental illness really kept my interest. Unfortunately while there were very real topics covered described in hauntingly graphic detail there was an element of the unbelievable which did border on the comedic.
This book wasn't perfect but I do recommend it and I look forward to seeing what Anne Berry has in store for the future.