Book Review: The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

Sunday, February 16, 2014
I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: The Undertaking of Lily Chen
Author: Danica Novgorodoff
Publication Date: 25 March 2014

Synopsis: "In The Undertaking of Lily Chen, Deshi, a young man struggling to make a life for himself in rural China, watches his life come unhinged when he accidentally kills his older brother in a fight. His distraught parents send him on a hopeless journey to acquire a bride for his brother to marry posthumously so he doesn't enter the next world alone - an ancient Chinese tradition with many modern adherents. Eligible female corpses are in short supply, however. When Deshi falls into company with a beautiful, angry, and single young woman named Lily, he sees a solution to his problems. The only hitch is Lily is still very much alive. Danica Novgorodoff, author of Slow Storm and Refresh, Refresh, brings her distinctive voice and gorgeous, moody watercolours to this wry, beautiful, and surprising literary graphic novel."

My thoughts: What a gruesome yet fascinating background this story has! The tradition of 'ghost brides' is something I only found out about shortly before reading this book, and I have to say I understand the motivations, but it still seems completely bizarre to me. Any book that deals with subject matter like this is going to walk the line between repulsion and intrigue, and Lily Chen does this so very well.
At first I didn't care for the character design, but as I read the story I warmed significantly to the art style. You only need to look at the cover of the book to see the beautiful, haunting artwork of Novgorodoff. There were times while reading this book that I would just stop and try to absorb as much of a page as I could before moving on - I would happily have one or two of these pages framed on my wall.
In terms of the character development, I often experienced a sense of alienation from the characters, but I think this was more to do with my own method of dealing with such dark tones. You can tell from the blurb what Deshi plans, and you watch in horror and fascination as he wrestles with his own personal demons and desires. I didn't always understand why certain characters did certain things, but that didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the story and the ultimate resolution. Lily's dad in particular had a very awesome storyline that had me alternating between laughter and gentle consideration.
Overall, I think this is an excellent graphic novel, and I would gladly put it on my shelf (if I could. The copy I read was digital :P).

I read an advanced copy of this book.

You would like this book if: You like graphic novels that deal with dark subject matter; you love beautiful artwork; you can appreciate the skill that goes into showing certain facial expressions perfectly.

Rating:  9/10

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