Sunday, 10 December 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Finished December 5
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford, read by Emily Woo Zeller

This historical novel takes us first to China, and then to Seattle in the early twentieth century. Both these are memories of Ernest Young's decades later, as one of his daughters, a reporter, digs into the past for stories on the upcoming world's fair of 1962. Ernest is living in a small apartment in Chinatown, with his ailing wife Grace living with his journalist daughter. She's been having memory issues, and outbursts, and it has been thought best to leave her there.
Ernest remembers his last moments with his mother and what happened to his baby sister. It was then his journey to the west began. First there was a days long walk with other young Chinese children and youths. Then a voyage by ship. Ernest remembers the other passengers, the spartan quarters and and a few of the men on the ship that they interacted with. He was lucky to survive.
The book then takes us to 1909, when Ernest has been a charitable case by a local female dogooder. When he finds enough courage to challenge her idea of his future, she changes her mind, and uses him as a fund-raising raffle prize. This throws him into a new world, one that is more freeing, but also limited. He is won by the madam of a high-class brothel, to the consternation of his dogooder. Other than the piano player, who lives elsewhere, Ernest is the only male in the house, and becomes an object of affection by the upstairs girls, and a companion to one of the servants near his own age, Fahn. He also connects with the madam's young daughter Maisie, and the three hang out together, explore portions of the town, and on one eventful evening go to the fair.
As Ernest looks back at this time in his life, he recognizes that he loved both girls, for different reasons, and in different ways, but, in the end, could only commit to one.
As the memories continue to come, and Ernest deals with the events of the present, Grace begins to improve and begins to share her own memories. Ernest has been trying to protect her, and the shared history that may not be what she really wants shared, but again, he finds that fate has taken things into her own hands.
This is a fascinating story, based on a newspaper article the author came across of a baby being auctioned off at the fair. Ford looked at other real historical events such as the drive for suffrage and against alcohol and other vices, and used them to tie the story together. I loved it.

No comments:

Post a comment