Book Review: The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually, by Jinny Koh

What’s the most important part of a book to you? Are you a plot person? Or do you prefer fully rounded characters, startling prose, and feeling the atmosphere of the setting? Many people would argue that all these things are important in a story, and many authors are brilliant at them all.

However, I have never read another book quite like The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually – which has such an intriguing and unpredictable plot: a plot that carries the reader through and doesn’t end quite how you might expect; a plot that I don’t want to ruin for you by describing in too much detail – but is otherwise a bit of a let-down.

The story starts with a family celebrating Chinese New Year, the grandmother suddenly falling ill and in the chaos, a lie being told. You can find a more detailed synopsis on the internet, but I’m glad I didn’t before I read the novel, because the exposition is surprising and delightful.

When you expect The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually to become a whodunnit it morphs more into a mystery and almost becomes a ghost story, but don’t let me give too much away. The plot is brilliantly executed.

Yet in every other way the book is cripplingly cliched.

The story is told through the eyes of two main characters: Anna, the younger sister, who at times infuriated me because she was so self-obsessed and bratty; and her mother Su Lai, who is understandably (under the circumstances that I don’t want to give away) distressed and making bad choices. Both of them spend a lot of time thinking in backstory – mostly backstory that the novel doesn’t need.

And all the characters in this book are either stock – the lovable grandma, the demanding mother, two sisters, one good-looking, the other supposedly plain (who is of course the one we are supposed to sympathise with). Or they don’t make sense, like the father who is unusually calm when his ten-year-old daughter doesn’t come home all night.

Thoughts and feelings are described rather than shown, and those thoughts and feelings are laboured and obvious. The prose is full of people being caught off guard, keeping their eyes peeled and the sharp smell of urine assailing nostrils.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a plot person, The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually is a clever book and you will probably love it. I think it would make a brilliant film. But if you like your books literary, maybe this book’s not for you.

The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually is published by Ethos Books.