The Shanghai Wife (Emma Harcourt, HQ)
Escaping a mysterious past in Australia, Annie Brand dreams of adventures along the Yangtze with her new husband, but soon finds herself ensconced in Shanghai for her own safety. Chafing at the judgment and snobbery she encounters among fellow expats, Annie befriends Chow, the maître d’ at the Shanghai Maritime Club. It’s a time of political upheaval in the city; when tensions between foreigners and the local community boil over, Annie’s life changes forever. As her relationship with Chow deepens, Annie’s desperate attempts to help her lover lead to consequences she could never have imagined. One can certainly appreciate debut author Emma Harcourt’s attempt to depict the political unrest and casual racism amid this fascinating backdrop, but with only one narrative point of view, The Shanghai Wife can’t do more than pick at the most shallow details. Annie is neither interesting enough nor rendered well enough to be more than an out-of-place foreigner who leaves chaos behind. And although one would be hard-pressed not to be sympathetic during her darkest moments, Annie’s journey fails to satisfy. This story will no doubt generate interesting book club discussions, but it lacks the depth to leave a lasting impression.
Kat Mayo runs a book blog and podcast at bookthingo.com.au