Book Review: The Hungry Ghosts by Anne Berry




389 PAGES 



A tale of both broad global events and intimate lives, this dazzling debut spans 60 years from British Hong Kong to Paris, England, and postcolonial Hong Kong Alice Safford is a lost soul.

Raised in Hong Kong by a monstrous mother and high-ranking father, she is neglected by her parents and indifferent siblings. Twenty-five years later during the Japanese occupation, Lin Shui, a young Chinese girl, was raped and murdered.

Now, as a “Hungry Ghost,” she finds the perfect host from whom to feed, returning with Alice to her home on the Peak. Together, entangled in the Safford’s’ web of dark secrets and desperate lies, they unleash chaos.

Against a background of political unrest and familial breakdown, Alice’s ghostly entourage swells alarmingly. Craving peace, she flees to England, then France, only to find her mischievous “Hungry Ghosts” have accompanied her.

With its dazzling array of characters and numerous twists and turns in fortune, this remarkable tour de force of the imagination is full of instantly memorable characters whose lives intermesh and boil over in a cauldron of domestic mayhem, unleashing unworldly spirits into the troubled air.


I am dead. No, strictly speaking that is not the truth. I am neither fully alive nor fully dead. I am ‘undead’. I am unable to relinquish my present and consign to the past. I am unable to accept I have no future. Thus I am static, earthbound, my feet anchored in mud, while my essence, my Chi, is being pulled, tugged, drawn towards the ghosts of my ancestors, towards the dominion of death. Sometimes I feel like a bone being worried at by a dog. This is an appropriate image because that is exactly what happened to me. This ‘half-death’ does not make for a peaceful spirit. I am troubled and I am trouble. You see I just have to stir things up, play with the laws of physics to prove… to prove what? That I may still be the cause and have an effect. When the ancestors clamour I tell them to be patient. I am not prepared for death I say.


I really enjoyed The Hungry Ghosts. I liked the fact Berry uses multiple first person narrators. This style can work really well or be a complete disaster. Berry makes this work. I knew exactly what character we were with every time. I liked the different and sometimes contrasting viewpoints of the same events. A lot of the characters in The Hungry Ghosts were dysfunctional and screwed up – my favourite kind of people. Dysfunctional people are so much more interesting than normal people. There is some stand out moments in The Hungry Ghosts including the brutal opening scene depicting Lin Shui’s tragic fate and pretty much every scene featuring the ghost/Alice. I found chapters about the ghost/Alice a lot more interesting than chapters dealing with the rest of Alice’s family. Towards the end of The Hungry Ghosts, Alice vanishes with a strange woman who rescues her from her job when she’s drunk and making a show of herself and doesn’t make contact with her family for 30 years. This is the only part of The Hungry Ghosts that doesn’t sit with me. Berry sort of glosses over this and offers no real explanation for Alice’s actions. Did she disappear because she knew her mother despised her? Did Lin Shui’s ghost make her? It’s an awkward moment in an otherwise well-written, fluid novel. The Hungry Ghosts is well worth a read if you want something a bit different.




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