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Book: “Linghun” by Ai Jiang
Publishing Info: Dark Matter INK, April 2023
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the author.
Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon | Dark Matter INK
Book Description: WELCOME HOME.
Follow Wenqi, Liam, and Mrs. in this modern gothic ghost story by Chinese-Canadian writer and immigrant, Ai Jiang. LINGHUN is set in the mysterious town of HOME, a place where the dead live again as spirits, conjured by the grief-sick population that refuses to let go.
Review: Thank you to Ai Jiang for sending me an eARC of this novella!
I had been seeing “Linghun” on my social media feeds on and off before it ended up in my inbox, and there was a lot about it that caught my eye. The cover design was one aspect, as was the promise of a Gothic horror story. But it wasn’t until I really dug into the first few pages that I realized that “Linghun” was not only going to be a creepy Gothic horror story, but also a very emotional exploration of grief. I love a story like that, but I also have to steel myself for a story like that. And boy oh boy was it not pulling any punches. I love a ghost story that can take on deeper layers, and this one is less about the ghosts and more about the people who are aching to see those ghosts again.
Man did this one really get to me. It’s not a particularly long book, definitely novella status not even clocking it at one hundred pages, but in those pages Jiang has crafted such a bleak, disturbing, and haunting tale about how grief can drive people to completely upend their lives if there is just ONE chance of getting to reconnect with a dead loved one. This is mostly through the eyes of Wenqi, a Chinese Canadian teenage girl whose family left China after the death of her older brother when he was six and she was three. Her mother, so consumed by her grief, convinces her family to move to HOME, a weird small town where people’s dead loved ones can manifest in one of the much sought out houses (so sought out that other people, called lingerers, camp out in hopes of securing an open home). Wenqi never knew her brother, but at the same time he is all she’s known because her mother has been so unable to process her grief and move on, that Wenqi is just an afterthought. Watching Wenqi have to become even more and more of an afterthought as her brother’s presence appears, and her mother is only interested in trying to keep his presence around, is heartbreaking for Wenqi, and very, very distressing to watch unfold as her mother becomes more and more obsessive and overcome.
And then on the flip side is Liam, a teenage boy in Wenqi’s neighborhood whose family has been a group of lingerers, desperate to get a house in HOME and who have stopped their lives and have resorted to camping out and hoping for a stroke of luck. Liam and Wenqi have similar frustrations of being the ones emotionally left behind while their parents are in deep grief, but it’s interesting seeing Liam on the other side of the coin, as his family is desperate to even have the opportunity, when it is not even a guarantee that they will have success. It was the portrayals of the lingerers that really messed with my head, as Jiang has one scene in particular that shows the lengths that the lingerers will go to try and have the chance to see those they loved again, even when it has all but ruined their lives and the lives of those that they brought with them. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, part of me wonders what I would do should I lose someone I love so fiercely and maybe have that opportunity. How far would I go? It’s a path I don’t want to think about too much. Which means it is SO PERFECT for a horror story.
“Linghun” is an effective and very eerie novella that is up there with other meditations on grief with a horror backdrop. If that kind of not so cheerful premise is your jam, this is a story you definitely need to check out.
Rating 8: A strange and melancholy story about grief and loss and how it can cling to a person until obsession has taken over.
“Linghun” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that similar horror stories about grief like “Pet Sematary”, “Ghost Eaters”, and “Horns” would be good fits.