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This is a review of the 2009 book 'The Hungry Ghosts' by Anne Berry. The book is all about Alice and her relationship between her and her family as they live in an exclusive hilltop apartment in Hong Kong. Alice is a bit of a loner in life and seems to have the ability to be a 'host' for ghosts. She picks up a small team of ghosts who follow her around causing chaos so her family become used to 'it wasn't me' whenever a pitcher of milk falls off the table or an ornament slips off the sideboard.
The family consists of Father (Ralph), a figurehead in Hong Kong as the British Consulate representative during times of conflict. He earns plenty of money and keeps to his central office most of the time but Alice is undoubtedly his favourite child. Mother (Myrtle) a steely character really detests Alice and had wished for a boy when she was born. Myrtle is really detestable in this book as she rules over her servants with a drink in one hand, constantly. Alice's siblings are really interesting, with older sisters Jillian and Nicola sent to a convent school in England as soon as they are old enough (and getting up to all sorts of high jinks!) and younger brother Harry who likes his food a little too much, is the apple of his mother's eye and is quite indifferent to his strange sister Alice.
The family home
A lot of the book is given to the family home in the posh part of Hong Kong, called the Peak it offers an amazing view of the harbour and their apartment is full of lovely antiques and expensive furniture. Two servants see to all the family's needs and they regularly entertain other English friends at the home.
The ghosts provide a lot of the entertainment in this book. In fact the first chapter is given to the main ghost, Lin Shui, a murdered Chinese girl who is not ready to join the family ancestors on the other side. She spends a few years hanging round an army hospital morgue before the building closes then becomes a school a few centuries later, at which point she finds Alice. Their relationship is strange, with the odd bout of communication between the two but mainly silence. Lin Shui tags along with Alice sometimes getting her in to trouble but sometimes saving her from great danger. Their entourage increases when Alice's dog (Bear) dies, then they are joined by two more who irritate Lin Shui yet keep her company.
Alice is a complex character who is mistreated by all her family, yet she constantly forgives them for their neglect and nasty actions. Eventually she flees to England, then Paris to try and sort out her life but the ghosts follow her too! As the reader I felt really sorry for Alice, who never means any harm and is totally devoted to her family, obeying their every whim and yet letting them down constantly.
The book is split into many chapters, each is narrated by a different member of the family, including Ghost which makes it really interesting to see all the different perspectives. It also jumps around a little time wise but all the chapters are dated so you need to pay attention to keep up with it.
The Hungry Ghosts refers to old Chinese belief that ghosts who do not move over to the other side remain on the outskirts of this life and visit us, starving, in fact the custom allows some time in the year where sacrifices of food and gifts are made to the ghosts who feast and linger around. The people lock their windows and doors and remain inside to avoid danger during this time. They respect this festival for the dead and whilst it's not exactly a celebration, they light incense and candles and pray for their loved ones.
The book covers a very political period in Hong Kong when it formed part of the British Monarchy and this plays a key part in respect of Ralph's job. The hand over of Hong Kong back to China motivates Ralph and Myrtle's move back to England and in effect, their demise of status in both China and in the family.
I picked my copy up from Poundland and really it was an excellent read for that sort of money. My copy is now up for grabs on readitswapit website. The book currently retails at £6.07 on the Amazon website.
I enjoyed reading this ghost story, it was really different and it's 400 pages seemed to last for ages, packed with dense detail. I don't think I could tackle another book like this too quickly as my brain needed a rest! Having said that, I found the book to be well written and interesting as long as you can get your head around the concept of ghosts following a person round.