K's Reviews > Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
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's review
Mar 25, 2007

did not like it
bookshelves: historicalfiction, chinajapan, thank-god-i-wasn-t-born-there, chicklit, maybe-it-s-me
Recommended for: People who want to sigh over a female friendship without thinking too critically

My review from Amazon (back in the days before I discovered goodreads!) -- I read this several years ago, but felt compelled to start a literary argument with my sister when I heard she actually liked this book. ;)

"The Secret Life of Bees" meets "Women of the Silk"

I'm getting a little tired of the "female friendship" genre that seems to pervade contemporary literature these days. While there are some better-written examples of this category, many of them seem to be written with the agenda of extolling the virtues and possibilities of close female friendship, perhaps as an alternative to traditional romance novels. Often, I feel that these authors are so anxious to idealize the close bond between two women that they spend less time actually allowing this bond to develop in a convincing way. Their characters remain underdeveloped as well, leaving the reader with an overdone, unconvincing, and ultimately shallow story line.

This book is no exception. The writing is not bad, and the historical/cultural context lends some interest to what would otherwise be a truly boring novel. However, the characters were hollow and their friendship, and subsequent estrangement, left me cold. I was so unenamored that I found myself wondering at the authenticity of the historical setting -- how accepted were these ritualized female friendships, and did they really take precedence over the marital bond at times (e.g., a wife sharing a bed with her visiting sworn sister as opposed to her husband)? I don't claim to be an expert on this period of Chinese history, but it seemed inconsistent with the little I know of the inferior status of women at this time and place. Given the author's general agenda, I couldn't help but wonder how many of the contextual details she colored in order to serve her purpose. Perhaps this may be excused by poetic license, but if it had been a better book, I would probably not be engaging in this cynical line of thought. The really good historical novels I've read were so convincing that it did not occur to me to question their authenticity.

In the title of my review I mentioned two similar novels which, if crossed, would result in this story. Both of those novels fall into the category of overdone, agenda-driven female fiction. Perhaps this comes from an effort to appeal to the middle-aged female audience, who probably represents a large percentage of the contemporary fiction market.
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10/16/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Ariella Khaya, I agree with you about annoying overdone literature but....
Isnt your last comment a little insulting to middle aged females? Why put the emphasis on age? Do you not think that younger women want to read about female friendships? Or is it that our tastes just get worse as we grow older?


message 2: by K (new) - rated it 1 star

K Good point. Why did I say middle-aged? Maybe because, at that time (several years ago), that was my stereotype of women in book clubs -- although I was a passionate book club aficionado even in my 20s, it always seemed like everyone else in every book club I joined was a good 15-20 years older than me at least.

Or maybe I said middle-aged because I felt that the depiction of girls/young women in the book didn't ring true to me, and that a young woman reading the book would grasp that immediately whereas an older woman might not, given that her stage of life was more removed.

Or maybe I assumed that young women would be more into reading romance novels while older women would have a wider variety of tastes.

I can't remember what made me say middle-aged, exactly, but you're right -- young women could certainly also want to read about female friendships. Also, I don't know that an interest in reading about female friendships necessarily reflects poor taste -- if a book is well-written, it's well-written, no matter what the subject matter. I think it's more when a book is gimmicky and agenda-driven, like the author said, "Okay -- let me write about a female friendship now because that's what people want to read" and then the author simply fills in the blanks like a dot-to-dot rather than fully fleshing out the story, then, well, I don't want to accuse people of poor taste for liking books I don't like, but I do feel that there are so many better books out there so let's just say that.


Petra Eggs I didn't like it either, but for different reasons.


message 4: by K (new) - rated it 1 star

K I liked your review! I felt a lot of the same things you did, but I don't know how well I communicated that in my review. I guess there was a lot to dislike in the book!


Petra Eggs Its nice to read a different perspective of why we didn't like the book.


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