Heard of a weretiger? All will be revealed, but don’t expect it to roar
Yangsze Choo’s book has got all the scaffolding to be entertaining, but it’s wasted in the build
Trying to explain to strangers what Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger is about can feel a bit like operating a GPS system that only speaks Jamaican Patois. Very little of what you say is going to make sense, but somehow the broader point will come across (hopefully). As an exercise it can be fun, especially when you get to the bits about mystic rivers and tigers. Sadly, telling people about the book may be more entertaining than reading it, which is a pity, because to paraphrase my grade 7 English teacher, it had so much potential.
Set in 1930s Malaya (modern-day Malaysia), The Night Tiger reads a bit like a sanitised LSD trip for book-club moms that starts with a little boy named Ren. With his last breath, Ren’s máster bequeaths Ren to a louche English doctor, leaving him with the instruction to return his missing finger. While all of this is going on, Ji Lin, a dressmaker cum dancer is grappling with how to pay off her mother’s gambling debts and the tingly sensations her stepbrother gives her.
What follows is a literary garden maze that takes a turn past weretigers (think werewolves with stripes), Chinese numerology and Pornhub’s current step-sibling fetish sans any porn. Chuck in a few mysterious deaths and some fecund jungle scenery and you have the recipe for what should be a pretty entertaining novel...