We are thrown into this story with the suicide of Leigh’s mother, and her transformation into a bird. Having read Max Porter’s “Grief is the Thing With Feathers,” I thought this story may have been heading down a similar path and I was intrigued where this would go (not too sure the magical realism would sustain me through the 462 pages of this book!)
Any hesitation I had was momentary – this story immersed me with its beautiful and sensory language. Leigh communicates her emotions in colors, with cerulean and crimson and bioluminescent green replacing feelings that otherwise may have felt static. The sensory delights continue with the mouthwatering descriptions of food, particularly in the markets of Taiwan. Few books have made me feel like I can taste what is being described (I’m looking at you, “Sourdough” by Robin Sloane!), so I loved this. These devices both make complete sense in the context of the plot, with Leigh being a budding artist. They also wrap the reader up in the emotions of the characters more readily and allow for an experience, rather than a mere reading, of the story.
What most stood out for me was the emotional intelligence of the writing, and the way the difficult topics of depression and suicide were so delicately handled by the author.
This is an incredible novel, and a debut at that. I hope we don’t have to wait too long before Emily X. R. Pan writes another!