American Literature

Peony in Love

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

Peony in Love

by Lisa See

Bloomsbury, HK$181

The story behind Peony in Love is so fantastic that readers will shake their heads in disbelief at Lisa See's explanation of her inspiration for the book. While doing research for The Peony Pavilion, she came across so-called lovesick maidens who became so obsessed with the 16th-century work that they decided life should imitate art and starved themselves to death. They thus mimicked the heroine, who wasted away so she could be with the man she loved.

See, however, stumbles in her attempt to write a historical novel that both tells and shows. Her story centres on 16-year-old Peony, who watches a performance of The Peony Pavilion. From her spot behind a screen she spies a man she immediately fancies, then bumps into him when she sneaks out to clear her head. Naturally, the two go gaga over each other, even though both have been promised to strangers. To distract herself, Peony starts work on a commentary on The Peony Pavilion, in the process neglecting food. After she dies her spirit forces the wives of the man she loves to complete her project. Although rich in detail, the book suffers from a rushed narrative that will persuade some to read the original work rather than See's other books.