'The Hungry Ghost' is a surprisingly beautiful and heartrendingly powerful novel about grief and memory by H.S Norup. Set in Singapore and pivoting around the Hungry Ghost Festival, this children's book is drenched in eerie atmosphere, and full of mystery and wonder.
Moving to Singapore to live with her dad and step-mum, Freja has a lot to cope with. Singapore is different to anything she has ever known and settling in isn't going to be easy. It's the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival and Freja's just seen a mysterious girl in a white dress sneaking into her garden. Curious to know who she is, Freja sets out to follow. Who is she? Where has she come from and why is she here? But Freja's desire to know unravels more than she thought possible - opening up secrets about her own family's past, to places she dare not go.
This is a story which slowly unravels like a tantalising Chinese ribbon dance. H.S Norup perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of a hot and haunted Singapore. I visited the country seventeen years ago and this brought back lots of memories. The humidity. The culture. The old and the new. Norup evokes it all in dream-like splendour; sometimes with an ominous edge - the threat of thunder and fire. This feels like Murakami for children, in the best possible way. But the sense of reality, of tenderness and vulnerability, underpins the growing mystery and tension. The dynamics of family life and of isolation in a foreign place are brilliantly portrayed. I particularly felt the struggle between Freja and the step-mum; that sense of yearning and pain underneath.
By the end everything reveals itself in shocking and tear-jerking fashion. 'The Hungry Ghost' is poignant and unsettling but so beautifully told. A different and dream-like children's book that is not easy to forget. This one will haunt you for some time after. I wholeheartedly recommend.