Title: The Funeral Cryer
Author: Wenyan Lu
Publisher: Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin
Release Date: 4th May 2023
BLURB from Goodreads
An unforgettable and deeply moving tale of one woman's re-awakening in contemporary rural China, perfect for fans of Braised Pork and The Woman In The Purple Skirt.
The Funeral Cryer long ago accepted the mundane realities of her life: avoided by fellow villagers because of the stigma attached to her job as a professional mourner and under-appreciated by The Husband, whose fecklessness has pushed the couple close to the brink of break-up. But just when things couldn't be bleaker, The Funeral Cryer takes a leap of faith - and in so doing things start to take a surprising turn for the better . . .
Dark, moving and wry, The Funeral Cryer is both an illuminating depiction of a 'left behind' society - and proof that it's never too late to change your life.
I immediately fell in love with the book cover and it was what initially attracted me to learn more about the book. I had read about the practice/tradition of funeral cryers so I was intrigued.
The main character isn't a very happy person, she used to have a double with her husband but as times change and modernised their act became outdated and no longer popular. Rather than work the fields they have been given, the fields were left to rot and the village council took them away from the main character and her husband and reassigned it to others in the community. So when their double act work dries up they are short of money. The MC then earns money by crying, singing, and wailing at people's funerals. To pay someone to cry at your funeral is a kind of status symbol and considered a good send off. The Funeral Cryer also goes on to sing some cheerier songs as the funeral progresses and people eat. The family of the deceased pay the Funeral Cryer the pre-agreed amount plus a tip, the size of which reveals how happy they were with your services and also they usually give some food to take home. The MC's husband doesn't like his wife's job and tells her she smells of death and demands she change out of her white cryers outfit and shower as soon as possible, he also says she brings bad luck. In fact the MC is kind of ostracised and kept at arms length by most people as they consider her job 'bad luck' and that being around her will bring them 'bad luck'. Having said that he is happy enough to take the envelope containing the money she has earnt and use some of it to finance his gambling on mah jong.
I disliked 'the husband' immensely, the way he speaks to the MC continually bossing her about, picking fault in everything she does and blaming her for their poor financial status, yet demanding, expecting her to hand every penny she earns. In todays modern standards he would be considered a coercive, abusive husband. He doesn't give her money for clothes or home furnishing etc merely saying they do not need these things. It is strongly hinted at that 'the husband' has been sleeping with Hotpot, possibly paying her. When Hotpots husband dies 'the husband' goes around to see her even more sometimes staying overnight! 'The husband' is usually very money orientated complaining if he thinks his Funeral Cryer wife has not earnt enough money, yet he almost demands that his wife should be the Funeral Cryer at Hotpots husbands funeral for free! Its soon revealed that Hotpot is pregnant and during a visit to her home at the insistence of 'the husband's Hotpot confesses to not knowing who the father of her baby is.
At one point 'the husband' suggests that he and the MC should pay Hotpot and adopt the baby. When the MC suggests perhaps they are too old, 'the husband' simply suggest 'the daughter' could take over care of the baby when they got older! He is determined they should have that baby.
Whilst the MC and 'the husband' have a very old fashioned/traditional marriage where the man is in charge and must be obeyed. 'The daughter' has moved away has a boyfriend whom she wants to have a baby with. This would still be frowned upon by most as the MC says at one point, 'the daughter' should have a marriage certificate first and that she will need one to get a birth certificate.
Throughout the book the MC has a flirtation with 'the barber' who styles her hair when she has a Funeral Cryer job. Even though the MC has this 'affair/non-affair' I can't help but admire the way she goes out and works hard at what is an unpopular job to provide for herself and 'the husband' The MC is trying hard to 'move with the times' where her daughter and her modern lifestyle and values yet still keeps her older traditional values when it comes to her own parents and caring for them. The MC doesn't really have a great life, she seems to spend most of it pleasing and serving others, whilst dealing with abuse and unrealistic expectations from her family along with prejudice against her job from both her family and the community.
I did end up enjoying the book though if I am completely honest there were times where I felt I wouldn't be able to finish reading it. I felt like giving up due to the way the book is written. The main characters name is not revealed, in fact very few names are used within the book except for nicknames such as one character is referred to as Hotpot. People were referred to as 'the husband' 'the daughter' 'the barber's. I found the lack of names weird and at times extremely irritating.
I really found the cultural references and traditions portrayed in the book fascinating. Basically the book is about the day to day life of the Main Character. The book did feel as though it had maybe been translated and somethings had been a little muddled or lost in translation.
Summing up, once you get past the oddness of no character names and the somewhat muddled, lost in translation feel it is an enjoyable enough read, kind of like a 'people watching' book, a look into the main characters life. It felt quite an abrupt, odd ending. It left some unanswered questions, did MC cry for the Barber at his funeral? If so what did the husband think/say. Did MC get the money she was waiting for that could give her independence from 'the husband' if that's what she wanted.