For information, this book was given to me for a review, but as always it does not affect what I say about the book. This is the first book by K. Ford K. I look forward to reading future books by this author.
The main protagonist is Bernice Babbitt, a repressed female who has done everything that her overbearing parents asked her. She currently is married, to the former high school football star and raises their children while taking care of their Inn. She buys a black-lacquer makeup case and finds that it belonged to a Hong Kong concubine, Blissful Night. What we find out is that it is enchanted with some face powder, which allows her to see visions of sexual past and future of individuals she runs into. The only way that she can get rid of these images is to tell the people what she sees.
At first I had to remember that this book is not a true “romance book” and there are sex acts described, but I would not call it erotica either. K. Ford K. ‘s The Concubine’s Gift is a book that I think every woman should read, for self-reflection and self-discovery about their own sexuality. The town Valentine, Nevada is one that has had a bordello, The Honey Bunny Ranch. The bordello has been a point of contention between the conservatives (like Bernice’s mother, husband, minister, etc.) and other groups within the town. Part of the plot of the book is dealing with the bunny ranch and banning prostitution.
Think about your life, your body, your decisions, is there anything about your life that you would change? How do you handle those imperfections, do you just see them as marks of character or impenetrable faults? For Bernice, some personality traits are to be buried not embraced:
But Bernice also did not believe that hiding her true opinions and sexual feelings was dishonest. She thought it was similar to hiding a defect and Bernice felt that her defect was that she had too much sexual interest, too much excitability and far too much empathy for prostitutes.
This novel makes us take a sincere look at our emotions. Are we being truthful with ourselves? Are we pretending to be someone who we are not?
Bernice Babbitt is someone in whom we can all relate, her mother corrects her actions, her father (Reverend) controlling her. While these are stereotypes, I believe that we can all find people in our lives that reflect these types of influences. In Bernice’s cases she finally breaks out of this cell that her insecurities have placed her entire life. An illustration of her mental chains when thinking of her friend, Trinket:
But secretly, Bernice was fascinated by Trinket because she wore her sexuality as openly as a fragrant perfume. She was also amazed by the fact that Trinket found life so easy and satisfying.
I think this is something that all of us should reflect on in our own lives: are you satisfied with your life? Do you find it easy to be yourself? This does not mean, do you not work hard, but rather are you happy within your own skin. Do you long to be someone else?
To me, the novel’s theme reflects Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78-82
Bernice’s visions are the manifestations of this theme, in all cases, people have been denying who they truly are. Bernice illustrates this theme in describing her friend Mrs. Lin:
Secretly, Bernice thought that Mrs. Lin was the bravest person in Valentine, not because she knew how to handle ghosts, but because Mrs. Lin didn’t care a bit what anyone thought of her.
Being honest to ones self is vital and clearly missing in Bernice’s life and in so many of our lives we hide a part of ourselves.
The author has the ability to describe such a colorful town, both in the conservative townspeople as well as the liberal members. The author could have chosen to go over the relationship of Bernice or tried to make a romance out of the book, but instead she focused her purpose on one protagonist’s self-discovery.
What could be better?
When I started the book, I have to admit it took me a bit to get into. It was not until 4% in that I finally met a person, up until that point it was all back-story of the town, Valentine. However, it was not enough to stop me and I am glad that I kept reading.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So many quotes touched me, but this review could only be so long. It has been a while since I have read a book that had such a well-built and uniformed theme. I found connections and concepts from A Game of Thrones to foot binding. Every woman should read this book and reflect on their own life. Is there anything that you need to change and be honest to yourself and others? As Shakespeare says: “to thine own self be true.”