Genre: Historical Fiction, Chinese Literature
Narrative Style: Various first person accounts.
Synopsis: Violet lives in a high class courtesan house in Shanghai with her American mother. There’s is one of the best houses, open to Chinese and Americans. They live a comfortable life. However, it isn’t long before Violet is separated from her mother by a vindictive lover and is forced to become a courtesan herself. Violet’s narrative is the main one but her mother and companions are also included to tell a tale that spans fifty years.
Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre: four word title.
This book is 900+ pages. I don’t say this so you can all slap me on the back and say well done (although, y’know feel free if you want to) but to suggest something of the pain of reading it. This book does not need to be 900+ pages. There isn’t enough narrative to go around.
I’ve read Tan before so I assumed that although it was a long book, it would jog along nicely. This is not the case. I found that there was no tension as it was easy to spot what the problems were going to be for Violet and the other women who’s tales are told here. The men were duplicitous or they died or they were ineffectual. It was easy to spot the next tragedy coming over the hills.
There is quite a bit of sex as you might expect from a novel about courtesans. I felt we could have been spared some of the details – particularly when Violet is learning what is expected of her – or they could have been shown through action rather than being described in a long list that just got harder to stomach as it went on.
For all that, Violet’s story is an interesting one and probably could have sustained the reader by itself. The other stories were not interesting enough to warrant a separate voice telling them and I would have rather focused more closely on Violet. She could have given details of her mother’s story through her own narrative as she did her daughter’s.
Finally, I was really just getting interested in Flora and Violet’s relationship when the novel ends. Perhaps if some of the surplus details from earlier were removed, we could have seen more of this relationship. For all my complaints about the length of this novel, I would have happily read on if it involved finding out more about this.