Books

The Funeral Cryer review: Subtle examination of social expectations in rural China

A professional mourner is weighed down by the societal expectations placed on women in Wenyan Lu's deeply affecting novel set in rural China

Funeral Cryer cover

The Funeral Cryer by Wenyan Lu is the Chinese author’s debut novel, a subtle and understated examination of social expectations in rural China. The unnamed narrator is the eponymous funeral cryer – someone who is employed in her local village as a professional mourner. The funeral cryer is a middle-aged woman shunned by much of her village due to superstitions and stigma, and she has to deal with a hapless husband into the bargain. 

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When the book starts, she’s unhappy but resigned to her lot. But very slowly, she strikes up a friendship with the local barber and begins to see how her life might change into one where she can express herself and live more fully. The book’s blurb suggests an upbeat journey, but the reality is left a lot more open to question. The pressure is immense on women to conform to expectations in such a society, and it takes great strength to fight against that and find some form of happiness. Lu’s world is deeply convincing, and her character’s situation is often painfully laid out on the page. But that just leads to a deeper emotional resonance with the funeral cryer, making it ultimately very moving.

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist 

Funeral Cryer cover
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The Funeral Cryer by Wenyan Lu is out now (Allen & Unwin, £16.99. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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