Monday, August 22, 2011
"Peony in Love", by Lisa See
This book is a blend of historical perspective combined with the spiritual life of 17th century China. A 9 hours long opera 'The Peony Pavilion' written by Tan Xianzu in 1598 provides the framework. The opera tells a tale of lovesick young women who fall in love go on a hunger strike and gradually waist away only to be reborn after their death as ghosts.
The author's tale is a mix of spirituality, cultural details, tradition, superstitions and everyday life experiences. The story opens with 16 year old Peony and other young women watching through a slit in the viewing screen the opening performance of 'The Peony Pavilion', custom does not allow them to mix with the male audience. During a poignant moment in the performance Peony catches a glimpse of Wu Ren, a handsome young man in the audience. Overcome by emotion she leaves the room and as destiny would have it, she eventually encounters him in a courtyard near the lakeside pavilion'..it is an encounter that launches a love story with all the atmosphere of the period'..
This tragic love story takes us through a mystical journey to hell, with demons, ghosts and sword fighting. The main character Peony narrates her life in a rather lackluster manner and appears a little naïve when devastated by cruel twists of fate. When she reappears as a ghost the story become monotonous, a constant tale of stalking and obsessiveness and the slow pacing became overwhelming and I found myself quickly losing interest and eventually wondered how I made it to the last page.
In all fairness, there are interesting parts that add a tad of substance to the tale, I found the background information about the Cataclysm, the Manchu overthrow of the Ming regime and the beliefs and ritual of the people to be interesting.
I may not have appreciated this novel to its fullest but others have and others will.