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The Hungry Ghosts Paperback – 18 Mar 2010
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' [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
Family lies and family secrets unleash... THE HUNGRY GHOSTSSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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.