Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Illustrated Review: The Butcher's Wife-Li Ang

(originally intended for a zine but the list of contributors was full)

The Butcher’s Wife-Li Ang

This short sharp novel has been reclaimed as a classic piece of feminist literature but its scope goes well beyond showing up the abuses of patriarchy. Based loosely on an actual newspaper report that the author had read, it imagines the truth behind the general assumption that the only thing that would drive a woman to murder he husband in rural Taiwan would be adultery on her part.

However Li Ang is careful not to cast the abusive husband as a complete two dimensional monster and instead examines the root causes of a society that would not only allow something like this to go on unchecked but would also consequently would put all the blame on the woman. Li Ang’s husband even has some, allbiet fleeting, sympathetic moments-whether recounting tales of hardship in his youth, or feeling momentary remorse for the surge of violent energy he all too often does not recognise. Although of course these are not presented as excuses but it does give an interesting insight into a way of life that cripples the vast majority.

The Butcher’s Wife is a tale of the dangers of superstition, and the desperate lenghts to which poverty will drive a person. The fact that the female protagonist’s feelings towards her husband are not always of horror is quite telling(*1). She has been through hard times and is at least grateful for the food being married to a pig-butcher brings, and even the much less frantic lifestyle and home life, and it is because of this that she quickly flicks from fear and upset to feeling self-satisfied and almost carefree.

A brilliantly layered story that paints a pretty vivid picture of rural life and mixes in some surreal and nightmarish horror in the vein of oriental ghost stories. Each of the stories settings are brought to life in all their stark duty, and the smells and tastes richly weave through to your senses. Finally the addition of the gossiping, judgmental, interfering and disingenuous Auntie Ah-Wang is an essential piece of the jigsaw, which shows that there is more than one guilty party in this tale. An essential read!


(*1) It is only the violence of his sexual demands that she fears at first

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