The Rice Paper Diaries
The novel begins in London in 1996 in a nursing home, but very quickly jumps back in time to Elsa Jones in 1940 Hong Kong, just prior to the Japanese invasion, which was to alter forever the lives of so many. Elsa undergoes a personal tragedy, but it is subsumed into the greater world events happening all around as Elsa, her husband Tommy and their new daughter Mari are interned in a prisoner of war camp.
There are four different narrators, so we see events from different perspectives; this, while providing insight into internal thoughts, sometimes means that the events in the novel are not as clear as they could be. This is particularly so when we come to the part narrated by Mari as a child. Naturally she does not understand all that is going on, and the reader has to work out a lot from hints and suggestions.
The jumps between viewpoints, while interesting, sometimes means that there is very little linking between sections and ideas, and themes which began promisingly are then not developed or considered in any depth. Themes such as race relations, expat lifestyle and the after-effects of being interned are touched upon, therefore, but not got to grips with enough really. Overall, it was an interesting novel which was well written and evocative, but perhaps required more “flesh”’ to really do full justice to the many ideas of the novel.