The Road To Wanting – Wendy Law-Yone

A book that had arrived and intrigued me enough to pop high on my TBR pile before it was announced on the Orange Longlist 2011 was ‘The Road To Wanting’ by Wendy Law-Yone. I don’t know specifically what it was that drew me to it, maybe a mix of the title, cover and the fact it featured China (a country I do love reading about) all made it a future must read. The only thing that was putting me off slightly was the tag line under the title stating ‘sometimes the hardest journey is the road home’ this made me think it was going to be a really heavy tale and so I braced myself for heartache ahead.

‘The Road To Wanting’ is a book that you can undoubtedly say has one of those rare mixtures of being rather literary, a book with a big story that sometimes isn’t easy to read and yet it is a book that is rather readable. I was pulled in from the rather mysterious opening where we find our protagonist Na Ga trying to hang herself in a hotel room, only to be interrupted by the receptionist saying that Mr Jiang her current guardian of sorts has just killed himself. I don’t think I have read such an instantly fascinating opening which opens so many questions for quite sometime.

As we read on Wendy Law-Yone very, very slowly allows the fog of confusion to clear. We don’t get Na Ga’s past, present or future in any cohesive order rather in little glimpses as we are taken back to her wild childhood catching eels, the times when she though she had been saved by an American family, her dark times in Thailand after that. All this is told whilst Na Ga also lets us know how she got to Wanting, a small and dingy town on the Chinese-Burmese borders.

There is so much that Wendy Law-Yone encompasses in what is quite a short and concise yet incredibly atmospheric novel that I feel rather bad to add that something was missing for me. The book had a great pace, plenty of characters and yet for some reason I found myself rather distanced from it. I wondered if this might be because Na Ga is a rather passive and in many ways accidental heroine. She seems to just accept life has it in for her and blindly go wherever it leads and whilst this I am sure is the case for many people I don’t know if a lead character in a novel suits it so well. I also think the short burst, which make the book so readable, slightly lessen the impact of all the events that unfold or are revealed. I felt I should have had more of an emotional reaction to this book than I did.

Reading ‘The Road To Wanting’ was an eye opening experience that threw me into a world I knew very little about. I just wish my narrator had been filled with more emotions than just apathy as she described her colourful and sometimes painful past. It could have made what is a very good book a complete page turning literary stunner, though her indifference could of course be the whole point which I am simply missing. 7/10

Should this make the Orange Shortlist then I may give it a re-read as I am sure I have missed something about this book and its nagging at me. I should have liked it more, so why didn’t I? What did I miss? I thought for some reason that this was Wendy Law-Yone’s debut novel, however I have read that there are two more ‘The Coffin Tree’ and ‘Irrawaddy Tango’ which have rather intriguing titles. Has anyone read either of those or indeed ‘The Road To Wanting’? If you have read the latter, did I miss the point of the protagonist’s apathy?


Filed under Orange Prize, Review, Vintage Books, Wendy Law-Yone

5 responses to “The Road To Wanting – Wendy Law-Yone

  1. I read this recently and really enjoyed it. I think that Naga’s passivity will irk some readers but I think it adds to the poignancy of the novel as she has been forced to build this wall around her personality, a type of self preservation given what she’s been through in her life. For the first time in her life she can make her own decisions and decide whether to cross the border or not. Well, that’s what I took from it! 😉

    • I am looking forward to seeing what Novel Insights makes of this book, I have given her mine for her trip to Thailand. I do wonder if I just missed something with this book and maybe should have tried it again, theres just too many books.

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  4. I do understand your response to the narrative voice. I was thinking the same thing as I read along for much of the novel.

    And, yet, I read it in less than 24 hours. (Out of fear: I was afraid that I wouldn’t pick it up again because I went to bed at Chapter 18 and it was hard enough to pick it up at that point.)

    Which I think changed my overall response in the end, being so completely immersed in the tale. I was completely overwhelmed emotionally at the end of the novel, so caught by the final few pages. So I think that something about her distanced tone must have worked, must have pulled me in, even while I was feeling pushed away.

    It was a very memorable reading experience for me overall, and as you’ve said, I’m curious about her other work now too.

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