1909, Seattle. At the World’s Fair a half-Chinese boy called Ernest Young is raffled off as a prize. He ends up working in a brothel in Seattle’s famed Red-Light District and falls in love with Maisie, the daughter of a flamboyant madam, and Fahn, a karayuki-san, a Japanese maid sold into servitude.
On the eve of the new World’s Fair in 1962, Ernest looks back on the past, the memories he made with his beloved wife while his daughter, a reporter, begins to unravel their tragic past.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes has two storylines. The first focuses on Ernest’s childhood – how he came to Seattle, and how he ended up working in the red-light district. The second story is set in 1962, some 53 years later, as his eldest daughter, Juju, starts to ask some probing questions about how he came to America for an article she wants to write for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I have to admit that I initially found the second storyline – that set in 1962 – to be something of a distraction from the tale of Ernest’s youth, which I enjoyed more. It’s not a happy story per se, although there are some happy moments, particularly after he meets Fahn and Maisie, both of whom he comes to love dearly, but I found it to be absolutely fascinating. That’s not to say that the second storyline isn’t interesting – it is – I was just so invested in young Ernest that I wanted to keep reading about his past. As the novel progressed, however, I did start to enjoy the second storyline more, particularly as the events in his youth came to a head, and the links between the two become clearer.
Ernest as a boy comes across as being incredibly sweet, and although his life isn’t an easy one, he maintains a positive attitude throughout. Half Chinese, half Caucasian, neither side of his heritage is willing to call him one of their own, and this sets him apart from everyone. He perseveres, however, through whatever is thrown at him, and it’s partly this determination to make the best of a situation that makes him such a wonderful character. He’s young but resilient, and even though there are better places to live than a gentlemen’s club, it could be worse for him as well, as he himself acknowledges. That said, his present-day story isn’t entirely happy, either, and whilst his troubles have changed, there are still worries in his life. To be honest, Ernest is a really endearing character at any age.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes is an incredibly moving tale, and is both a love story and a fascinating work of historical fiction that is by turns both happy and a little sad. It’s not my usual kind of read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I loved the historical detail that Ford put into the novel, which really helped to bring early twentieth century Seattle to life. The politics of the time, particularly relating to suffrage, as well as racism, prostitution, and slavery all add context to the novel and make this a novel that it’s easy to lose yourself in.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes was published on 12 September by Allison & Busby. Many thanks to Emma Finnigan for providing a copy for review.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐