An Yu, Ghost Music (2022)

Ghost Music is a book that might be a bit difficult to get into, but once I got into the slow and slightly dreamy atmosphere, I enjoyed it as a slightly (ok, probably more than slightly) whimsical Chinese version of a breakdown.

On a factual level, it could be a rather cliché story. Song Yan had a career as a professional concert piano player. She gave it up when she married Bowen, who is a successful executive at a car company in Beijing. She’s giving piano lessons to kids, but this is only waiting until she has her own kid(s). As in many Chinese families, Bowen’s mother has joined them from the countryside to live with them and be taken care of by her daughter in law. But you see that the typical Chinese upper middle class dream is not working. Bowen doesn’t want kids. Bowen’s mother is not abusive but Song Yan and she just ignore each other.

Then the whimsical arrives under the form of rare mushrooms sent regularly and anonymously to Song Yan. Mother and daughter in law bond over the mushrooms and cook them for Bowen night after night. But it’s only the beginning of the surprises. Song Yan’s life will soon spiral into a full blown crisis.

The novel’s pace is a bit uneven, and some readers might be disturbed by the absence of neat character arch and plot resolution. It might be that the author couldn’t choose between realism and full oniric fantasy, and so the novel remains on the brink all along. Despite this weakness I enjoyed this discovery in Chinese literature and will look if my local library has An Yu previous translated novel, Braised Pork.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. I received a free copy of this book for review consideration.

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