Friday, September 30, 2016
Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu
The story: Aunty Lee is drawn into a case where an expat named Allison Love (nee Fitzgerald) is the murderer. This is a big deal because she was once the target of a social media storm in Singapore. And because her business partner is involved.
I won't say too much here, because I might give away the plot twists and those are the best parts of the book (apart from Aunty Lee).
First, the good: Apart from it being refreshing to see a Singaporean mystery (endorsed by Louise Penny, no less!), I really did like Aunty Lee and the older generation in general. The American (Allison's sister Valerie) was ugly as inside as out, and Allison's ex-husband was... Not that likeable. The younger set was meh.
Now for the bad: I was constantly pulled out of the story by the over explaining and digressions. Aunty Lee's digressions felt pretty natural, but the rest was just annoying. A cop reflects on the necessity of Foreign Talent when talking to the domestic helper, thoughts on trees lead to Lee Kuan Yew, etc. You get the picture. I'm generally a fan of Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP but this annoyed even me.
The second was the constant over-explaining. I think it might be worse than during The Ghost Bride. It felt like the author didn't expect Singaporeans to read the book and instead was writing for a completely different audience and treating them like babies. I really would have preferred all the explanations and digressions out - it would have made the book a lot more enjoyable.
The weird: I picked up this book because it includes Singapore's social media culture (though the theme was never really developed). Halfway through, I realised that this was based on a real incident - when an expat named Allison McElwee euthanised her puppy for "aggression" even though she was asked to wait while a new home was arranged. Even the "lying that it was given away" thing is similar. The differences are in the last name and hopefully the character.
Despite this, the book never mentions that it was inspired/based on a real incident. This is despite a thick "bonus section", with discussions for book clubs and a guide to things Aunty Lee recommends in Singapore.
This didn't affect my enjoyment of the book - I just thought it was weird.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, but the constant head-hopping was jarring. Perhaps she was trying to emulate Jane Austen, but it didn't really work for me.
I'm not totally going to write off the series though (although I probably won't be reading the previous books, if they're similar). Aunty Lee really is a fun character, and it's possible that as the series gets established, the over explanations and head hopping will slowly cease to be.