Electric Shadows of Shanghai

Written by Clare Kane
Review by Tracey Warr

Recently wed couple, Will and Amelia Graves, arrive in Shanghai in 1931 where Will takes up a post as translator at the British Consulate. Will explores Shanghai’s seedy nightclubs, has a penchant for beautiful Chinese poetry and is enamoured with Wu Feifei, star of many Chinese silent films (the electric shadows of the title). Feifei is ambitious to get to Hollywood and Will teaches her English. Amelia deals with Will’s neglect by getting involved in an unusual troupe of ballerinas who are mostly Russian taxi-dancers and prostitutes, and she writes an article for American journalist Julia and her New Woman magazine. Meanwhile the city rumbles ominously with increasing hostilities between China and Japan which culminate in conflict in 1932 when Japan bombs Shanghai and the city is defended by the Chinese 19th Route Army.

The female characters – Julia, Feifei and Amelia – are particularly well-drawn. Julia’s dilemma is movingly portrayed when her love for a Chinese man forces her to compromise her brash, independent female stance. Will’s backstabbing colleagues in the Consulate and “the cemented social hierarchies” of the British consular wives with “their strings of pearls strangling the last of their compassion out of them” effectively conjure up the atmosphere of the ex-pat community.

Clare Kane’s novel poignantly captures the dreams and desires of the foreign and Chinese characters as they interact with one another in the homes, streets and clubs of the intoxicating and volatile city. This is a haunting debut novel. It read well, with no formatting glitches, on my laptop using a Kindle Cloud Reader. The book’s cover was enticing and effectively reflected the story.

traditional published : e-edition reviewed