REVIEW: THE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO- by Zen Cho

For writer Jade Yeo, the Roaring Twenties are coming in with more of a purr. She’s perfectly happy making a living by churning out articles on what the well-dressed woman is wearing. But when she pillories one of London’s leading literary luminaries in a scathing review, she may have made the mistake of her career.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is a brilliant novella, that tells a complete and entertaining Austen-esque story in a relatively short space of time. Jade Yeo (or Geok Huay- the real name she anglicised in order to avoid the bane of the people around her failing to pronounce it) and her lively narrative is what makes this story such a joy to read.Her personality is a combination of Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Cecilly from The Importance of Being Earnest mixed into one. Only, Jade Yeo messes up more and goes further down the path of a fallen women than censors would allow. This combination of Jade Austen style genteel wit and language and detailed descriptions of sex (which she records in her diary in case she will ‘never engage in the activity again’ and has to ‘go off this recollection of it for the rest of [her] life.’) are hilarious:

“I have to say that it is very pleasant for one’s bosom to recieve flattering attention after years of its inspiring no warmer emotions than maternal disappointment. […] Oh dear, it doesn’t seem right to be talking about one’s parents when one is describing being debauched.

The whole novel is reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel in style and was a delight to read. It also touches on some issues of the time (like people with mental illness and women who don’t conform to society’s expectations) in a realistic andd genuine way, which makes me think of The Yellow Wallpaper. However, unlike the Yellow Wallpaper, it isn’t dark but portrayed in a very lighthearted and funny way. It’s portrayal of race in the 1920s is also similar to the way Prunella’s race was explored in Cho’s Sorcerer To The Crown. It has lots of little observations filtered through the novel, but it chooses not to go into detail about the full horror of racism at the time. This works in this case, as it gives Jade Yeo the feel of a genuine East Asian woman, but allows the story to remain light hearted.

As for the characters, although Jade herself is the crowning gory by far, the rest of the cast are all memorable ; Ravi is very kind, though the least developed of the cast; Hardie is genuinely gripping as the charismatic academic; Aunt Iris plays the obnoxious rich caricature who serves as the primary target of Jade’s biting Austen like wit. However, my favourite has to be Diana, the strong and intelligent lady who you initially think is going to be a downtrodden ‘little wife’ but who actually turns out to be a force to be reckoned with. Her relationship is one that is a rarely explored in the media (let alone media set in this time period) and it was done in a way that was fairly tasteful. The only thing that made me a little bit sad was when Jade described it as ‘not real’; it may not be one that would work for her, understandably so, but implying it has no value seemed a little harsh.

The only other nitpick I have with this novel is the ending. It was a very well written and satisfying ending. However, even today I think it would have been unlikely for someone to roll so easily with Jade’s, er, predicament, let alone someone who was raised in the turn of the century. This is a nitpick,as compared to the brilliant writing throughout, it really did nothing to diminish the novel’s enjoy-ability.

VERDICT: The Perilious Life Of Jade Yeo was a funny and engaging read from start to finish. If you’re interested in a story with a hilarious heroine with a writing style reminiscent of Jane Austen, then I would highly recommend this.

RATING: 5 Sassy quips from a most magnanimous heroine/ 5

 

 

 

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