The Hell Screens
by Alvin Lu
- reviewed by J M Frank
In The Hell Screens, a Chinese American goes to Taiwan to chronicle
the ghost stories and rich mythology of the Island. The main character
tries to remain an objective outsider, apparently considering himself
above the generally undereducated and superstitious natives. But
inevitably, he becomes the story, journeying into a surreal world
where the line between fantasy and reality blurs.
Lu does a great job of mixing traditional with the modern, ancient
ghost stories with current serial killers, and fantasy with reality.
In Lu's novel, nothing is what it seems. Fish are actually ghosts
seeking to feed off the living, and an irritated contact lens can
become a gateway to another world
Inevitably in novels of this type, the text can sometimes be hard
to follow. Locations, narrators and times sometimes switch without
warning and the reader may read a page or two before realizing a
switch has occurred. This is intended to be disorienting, and it
works. The reader constantly has a sense of non-reality; a feeling
that anything is possible. However, it also can be frustrating at
times to frequently go back and reread passages again in order to
understand what just happened. But, again, this is part of the nature
of the novel.
There is a different possible problem here that is not necessary
for any type of novel. The ending is not very satisfying. One hopes
for a complete devolution into madness, an explanation of events,
or some form of resolution. But it never comes. In a way, the ending
is appropriate in that the conclusion remains true to the rest of
the text. One is left disoriented and not quite sure just what exactly
This is a novel that should be read for the journey rather than
the conclusion. The strange world Lu creates remains novel and fresh
while incorporating fascinating pieces of traditional mythology.
this book at Amazon.com
M Frank welcomes your comments on this review.