The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

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Rating – 3 stars

In reading its possible to travel to all the lands that exist and the ones that don’t. Lands we may have heard of,but never seen; ones we never even knew existed.

I believe being a reader is like being a dreamer. You can’t have too many dreams and there is no end to the number of books one may read. Readers are dreamers essentially in my opinion, they are fickle, easily bored but loyal to a fault if in love, relentless, restless, they want adventures yet they like comforts, they wish the luxury of travel but cannot always pursue their ideal destination. In reading however they travel lands unseen, meet people unknown.

The reason I am babbling all of this is because I have this fantasy of visiting places I long to see – one of them is Malaysia, the setting of this book in 1839 Malacca, Malaya what is now Melaka, Malaysia.

In The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, Li Lan the book’ protagonist is an 18 year old ordinary girl, of an ordinary household that is fast dwindling towards poverty. Her mother is dead, her father is an opium addict, who has become almost a recluse to the outside world and soon they may perhaps not be able to even pay for the last 3 servants remaining in the household that work for them.

She, like her father is more interested in scholarly pursuits than making friends or learning anything girlish, which might help her gain a lover. Though she wishes and dreams she would marry well one day, as well as her financial condition allows her too, she knows perhaps the day may never come too. Who would after all marry a pauper’ daughter especially in a society where marriage is associated with economic condition and the social standing of a family. Things her family lacks in abundance.

Hence, when a proposal for her does arrive by the Lim family headed by an old friend of her father’  she is astonished. Not just because the Lims are one of the richest families in the country but because the proposal is an unusual one. The proposal to be the Ghost Bride of the son of the family who has expired a few months back.

As per Malaya customs, unmarried young women, often concubines who bore a child may be married off in a ceremony to the man they were involved with, to grant them the status of a spouse, to placate the spirit and help them pass on. However in case of men, if the spirit is restless the custom is to marry a girl to the dead groom in a ceremony where the groom is represented by a rooster. 

Li Lan cannot understand why the Lim family, specifically wants her to be the ghost bride of their son.  She had never even known Lim Tian Ching, had never even been introduced to the man. She knows her father is in debt of the Lims hence even though she dismisses the proposal when an invitation is extended to her to visit the Lim mansion, out of curiosity and respect she visits their place.

Soon after the visit, Li Lan begins to dream Lim Tian Ching. In her dreams he is trying to court her, to propose to her, to convince her to become his bride.

At first Li Lan thinks her mind is playing tricks with her, the effect of having had such a strange proposal, only does after a few days and dreams does it become clear to her that Lim Tian Ching is indeed present in her dreams as a ghost. That she is being haunted by him. She finally shares the truth of what’s happening with Amah,  her nurse who has not only raised her but her mother as well. Amah takes her to a medium to exorcise the spirit of Lim Tian Ching.

The effort of exorcism goes to waste. However soon is the reason for the haunting revealed. Li Lan at the age of 7, was betrothed, unknown to her, to  Lim Tian Ching’ cousin Tian Bai, who was 16 at the time.  Lim Tian Ching believes he was poisoned and thus killed by his cousin. He wants Li Lan as his bride, to exact revenge.

When it seems the mystery at the heart of things has been finally revealed and in the second half of the book, Li Lan will either fall prey to this evil spirit’ scheme or be free of him forever things take a turn. Li Lan learns Tian Bai’ engagement with her has been broken and that he will marry someone else now. Li Lan overdoses on some sort of concoction meant to help her drive away Lim Tian Ching from her dreams, herself ends up in a coma. And while her body falls prey to this, her soul’ connection to it is severed somehow; making her land in the land of the dead as a half-dead spirit.

From thereon the book is so tangled in Malaya mythology and with so many characters it honestly spins your head. Li Lan finds an unlikely savior in Er Lang, a dragon who can take a human form and is a minor official in the spirit world; together they discover how Lim Tian Ching along with a few of his ancestors and others is involved in a plot with one of the judges of the ten courts of hell, who plan to bring a revolution and take over heaven and hell.

Up until a point I really liked the idea behind this book, a girl getting proposed to marry a dead guy, and later on being haunted by his spirit. The mystery of why is she being targeted for so horrible a scheme, making me curious enough to pick up the book. However the book though good does not strike a chord with me.

Li Lan tries everything within her means to get rid of Lim Tian Ching’, and avoid becoming his ghost bride even letting go of Tian Bai since she does not wish to be associated with his family, even in the other world, only to accept Er Lang’ proposal in the end who she somehow falls in love with, which was really beyond me. 

 I think the second half of the book is a big jumble and it could have been shorter. The few pages dedicated towards the end where Li Lan’ body is possessed by another vain spirit called Fan, who incessantly flirts with Tian Bai and tries to seduce him could have been avoided.  Instead if the author had used those pages to show a relationship between Er Lang and Li Lan it would have been better, since they end up together and the only basis of Li Lan falling in love with him, is that he helped her out when she was all alone and all Er Lang probably feels for her, seems just like a mere case of attraction based on which he even offers to marry her. Though I did like Choo’ writing, I could not really find the end satisfactory. It just seemed wrapped up in a bow. 

Somehow this book did not make any impression on me, it was neither excessively good nor exceedingly bad but so average its forgetable and perhaps even avoidable. Wouldnt recommend this to anybody.

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