It’s so exciting that I’ve gotten this far! I don’t think I’ve blogged this much in such a long time – plus I have one more potential challenge coming after this. (So to find out what this 30DBC is about, click here.)
Today, I’ll be sharing with you a book that I thought I wouldn’t like but ended up loving. And, to cut to the chase today, this book is …
The Butcher’s Wife by Li Ang
I at first thought I wouldn’t like this novel because, as Chinese novels go, I am generally not a fan. I have a hard time reading them and, for the most part, the ones I have read have very arrogant tones and appear to flaunt (or prove) their ability to write in the English language with far too flowery imagery for my taste.
So, as meek as a Chinese writer may attempt to sound, I will always read them and regard them as having far too much pride in themselves, in their culture and their tradition. Now don’t get me wrong, it is alright to have pride in your culture – but there is some sort of defensiveness that Asian novels have which is off-putting, ’cause as a reader I always find it difficult taking the side of a protagonist who is ready to attack the reader on their lack of knowledge in their Asian culture.
The Butcher’s Wife, on the other hand, while I was skeptical at first on how much I would enjoy it, was absolutely riveting.
Chen Jiangshui is a pig-butcher in a small coastal Taiwanese town. Stocky, with a paunch and deep-set beady eyes, he resembles a pig himself. His brutality towards his new young wife, Lin Shi, knows no bounds. The more she screams, the more he likes it. She is further isolated by the vicious gossip of her neighbors who condemn her for screaming aloud. As they see it, women are supposed to be tolerant and put their husbands above everything else. According to an old Chinese belief, all butchers are destined for hell–an eternity of torment by the animals they have dispatched. Lin Shi, isolated, despairing, and finally driven to madness, fittingly kills him with his own instrument–a meat cleaver.
Because of the violence and sexuality portrayed in this novel, it is no wonder that this novel, upon being published, was incredibly controversial in Taiwan and immediately banned. Li Ang got the idea for this story herself from a newspaper clipping of a real life case of a woman who murdered her husband with a meat cleaver. Yet, despite the criticism it has gotten from its own community, I believe The Butcher’s Wife is deserving of its rightful place in women’s literature today. It is the portrayal of how women themselves in a community are prejudiced against their own sex, and how absolute suppression and repression can result in horrifying psychological torment and damage, and disastrous repercussions.
While I first thought that the character of Lin Shi was one that I would not be able to identify nor empathise with, I found myself very wrong about this after the first few pages. It is apparent that Lin Shi is not as vocal and strong-willed a female character as one may prefer them to be, but her demeanor is befitting of a girl in her situation. Her inability to find a proper escape from her prison is the very reason why the events in this novel unfold the way they should. Treated like an animal, it is no surprise that she grows more and more unreliable as a narrator and far more deranged as a woman. The ending was both tragic and oddly satisfying to read. As a reader I found myself grappling with a range of emotions towards the treatment of Lin Shi and her final outburst upon her husband.
So for those who have always been skeptical towards Asian literature, maybe you want to give this novel a go.
Last but not least, do check out Rhey of Sunshine for her book which she ended up loving, and I’ll see you tomorrow for my favourite classic book.
Till next time,