The Hungry Ghosts

| 19 September , 2009 | Reply

Guest editor

Guest Editor, Jane de Graaff from I Ate It All

Premise: Everyone has their ghosts. Unfortunately for Alice Safford, hers are all too real.

The daughter of a leading political figure in Hong Kong\’s colonial British government, Alice is marked for tragedy from the moment she is born to a mother who only wanted a boy.

Plagued by the parasitic ghost of a young Chinese girl murdered 25 years earlier in the Japanese occupation of the Island, Alice grows up surrounded by strange occurrences that neither she, nor her privileged family can explain.

As Hong Kong edges towards the 1997 handover back to Chinese Government and political unrest grows, the Safford family struggles with it\’s own unrest built of desperate secrets and strategic lies.

Slowly, Alice\’s phantom following begins to bloat with new comers and she seeks escape overseas in the UK and Paris. But she soon finds that ‘hungry ghosts\’ are transportable and that it will take more than a move abroad to bring the ghosts, and Alice, some peace.

Hungry Ghost

Review: Ever wondered what it\’s like to be dead? Lin Shui knows, but she\’s not ready to accept it.

This is a gripping and intensely personal story right from the opening pages and it begins with Lin Shui\’s untimely and violent death high on The Peak in Hong Kong. Immediately drawn in by stark contrasts and beautiful, detailed descriptions, the story follows Lin Shui\’s path as a ‘hungry ghost\’ walking among the living and looking for a host to share life with. Wearing nothing but an army jacket gifted to her by another departing soul, she eventually encounters the young Alice, exploring the site of an old army hospital.

From here on Alice unwittingly shares her body with the ghost and carries it with her wherever she goes, changing the course of both existences forever.

As the ghost draws strength from this new host and begins to make its presence felt, those around Alice begin to see her as increasingly troublesome and strange.

This is a story full of regret, longing and beautifully described tragedy.

Anne Berry deftly weaves the historic and geographic facts of a glittering life in Hong Kong into a detailed and intimate portrait of a troubled family.  Each chapter and event is told through the eyes of a different and decidedly individual character- from Alice\’s sweaty, overweight and hopelessly self-effacing younger brother, to her precocious and devious older sisters, or perverted and philandering neighbours, teachers and friends.

But the most powerful and confronting views are seen through the eyes of those closet to Alice- her beautiful, disaffected and self-serving mother, endlessly striving to construct the image of a perfect family, and her high profile, hard working and affection starved father.

Not once do we see the world from Alice\’s viewpoint- but then, we don\’t need to when we can see everything through the eyes of the ghost.

Mundane details become a thing of rapture, described with such delicate attention to detail that each crack and crevice of the luxurious family apartment on The Peak, along with the heaving and unsettled world of Hong Kong below, takes on a dazzling hue despite the more traumatic reality.

Berry is a master storyteller, effortlessly sweeping across years, continents and cultures, unravelling the tale of Alice from so many different angles. By the time she finds her peace, we know Alice inside out, just like the ghost.

It\’s a harrowing tale, but one that examines human shortcomings in such graphic detail along the way that it\’s certainly a journey worth taking. After all, how would you handle an entourage of hungry ghosts?

Available now:  HarperCollins RRP$32.99

Jane

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