Leah's Reviews > Peony in Love

Peony in Love by Lisa See
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's review
Dec 09, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: general-fiction, history, heartbreaking
Read in January, 2009

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. I wanted to love it, actually, because it came so highly recommended to me by people (mom and sis) who's taste in books I usually savour similarly. Plus, hi, there is ghost sex and how could a book with ghosts getting it on be anything but awesomeness? Plus, I am a sucker for a story within a story, and Peony involves the obsession of a young girl on the story behind a forbidden opera. Could it be that I just wasn't in the mood for this book? Possibly. But I think it is more than that, and the fact that I have had a difficult time putting my finger on exactly what the problem was with this book has prevented me from reviewing it for a red hot minute.

I guess for a book with "Love" in the title, and a plot line which addresses the element of the soul, it lacked a lot of heart and it lacked a lot of soul. See really did her research, and that is one aspect of the book I adored: learning about the burial rituals of 17th Century China. However, I think at times the author became bogged down by the vastness of her own research - by what she must have found was an amazingly rich world of tradition - and she had a difficult time incorporating it in a natural way where it comes out in the story rather than presenting these points often in lists, as told awkwardly by the narrator.

Compare to a book like Allende's The House of Spirits, another roman à clef. Naturally, the two are on very different topics by very different authors, but the historical content seemed to flow more easily in House. Maybe Peony just needed to be fattened up a bit more in order to give the story more room to incorporate the content in a natural evolution without smooshing.

Peony did have the same strong feminist message as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan but at times it seemed forced.

The thing it comes down to is: I think having a ghost as a narrator can be tricky tricky business. There was a super best seller a few years ago that everyone loved (can't remember what it was called right now) and it had a ghost narrator, too. I found the same problems in Peony as I found in that book; it can borderline on corny and overly sentimental if not careful. I believe some of these issues could have been avoided by the use of a third person narrative instead, where people are actually becoming possessed by her ghost and you are kind of left with more of a magical realist, mysterious feeling of, "What is really going on here?" That would have been more intriguing to me than being spoon fed.

The book is still worth picking up for the insight it gives on an unique time in history that I would have never otherwise been aware of. I give it more like a 3.5 stars for the research put into the creation of this novel.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Colleen Love love love this book! can't wait for your review!

Leah Ack, I know, I am a slacker Goodreader lately sis, I need to seriously get some reviews up! I will update this and more on Tuesday, when I'm awaiting jury duty and will be sitting around with nothing to do. ha

Colleen I agree with you on the forced feeling of some of her historical information. Like, "I have to get this in somehow, so boom, how about there?" But I felt that once she got past that (which I felt she did after the first part of the book) the story was richer than you obviously felt it was! Good review!

Candace It's still one of my favorites, but I loved your review, thought-provoking

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