All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
Author: Duncan Jepson
Genre: Fiction (Historical / China / 1930s / Mothers and Daughters / Arranged Marriage / Coming of Age)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (12/20/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did -- this reads very quickly.
One-sentence summary: A young woman in 1930s Shanghai is transformed by her marriage and the changing political landscape of China.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I'm not wild about the cartoon-y Chinese woman, even though it has a vintage-y look. However, the physical cover is gorgeous -- the paper is heavily textured, with embossing of the border and lettering. Plus French flaps and deckle edges, yum!
I'm reminded of...: Philippa Gregory, Sidney Sheldon
First line: I still know your face.
Do... I hate the use of Papyrus font for the chapter headings?: YES. Not only is it a bit cheesy, but it doesn't fit the story, the era, or the locale. There's no reason for it. I'm glad, I guess, that they didn't use a 'Chinese'-inspired font.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're in the mood for some tawdry escapism.
Why did I get this book?: Having so enjoyed A Different Sky, which was set in 1930s Singapore, I was immediately drawn to this story.
Review: I'm sort of baffled about this book. A historical novel set in 1930s Shanghai, the story follows Feng, a naive and excessively innocent woman forced into an arranged marriage with a powerful family. The resulting marriage twists her in to a different kind of woman, and we follow her transformation through the '40s and the Chinese Revolution.
This rich historical setting felt like a total waste as the novel is really about Feng's sexual education and the way her marriage warps her, causing her to become as cruel as those around her. I went through this spate of reading in middle school and high school, Lifetime Movie-esque novels featuring wronged women who wrought their revenge with sex, usually. Anti-romances, they featured lots of tawdriness and little love, and they were delicious, warped garbage. This reminds me of those kinds of books -- Sidney Sheldon, Wideacre-ish Philippa Gregory, Danielle Steele -- and if you're in the mood for that kind of novel, this will satisfy.
Unfortunately, I wasn't expecting it, so I was a bit disappointed -- I was thinking I'd get something meatier. It's not Jepson's fault I had something different in mind, though. His writing style is very easy, fast (I read this book in a few hours), and the characters fairly easy to know -- nothing super nuanced -- but a good old-fashioned salacious family saga. If the holidays are killing you, and you want some fiction that has the same nutritional value as eggnog, but tastes just as good, then this is the book for you!
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