Book: The Night Tiger

Yangsze Choo, The Night Tiger, Flatiron Books, 2019.

Gonna be quick because I’m just now cruising through a bunch of things. Basically I liked Night Tiger. I loved the setting and the magic to it, and I loved the appeals to Malaysian folklore and how they ran through the story. There wasn’t that much explicit in this, but I also thought the time period, interwar Empire, was compelling and gave a kind of ominousness to everything. But maybe that’s just my love for WWI history.

I do have one gripe though. There are lots of things to like, but I was frustrated by what you might call the intrusive naturalism in the book. The first 3/4 or maybe even 4/5 of the book are all this wonderful magical business about weretigers, missing limbs, dreamstates, the afterlife, communication between the living and the dead, fate. All that is lovely and mysterious and palpable, even if Choo is occasionally a little heavy handed, laying things out for the reader.

And then it all crashes down when it turns out it was a (sort of double?) murder mystery, and that the plot has a handy naturalistic explanation. The protagonist Ji Lin is said to love Sherlock Holmes. The end of Night Tiger isn’t as mercilessly naturalistic as a Sherlock Holmes story, in which the awesome light of Reason (hmhmempireahem) shines through to banish the follies of the superstitious (ahemprimitiveshmhm). Magic still clearly exists in the world of Night Tiger, and that’s good, but it exists as secondary. Events, actions, the happenings of the world, are ultimately naturalistic.

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