The Majesties is an #OwnVoices Indonesian-Chinese story about a woman who’s the sole survivor of a mass murder of three-hundred people committed by her late sister. As she lies in a coma, trapped in her own body, she ruminates about her sister and the complicated lives of their family, hoping to unravel the motive of her sister’s actions.
It’s a complex story about a highly dysfunctional family who completely lose their touch with morality in the face of audacious wealth. It’s filled with sad and traumatised individuals who struggle to find acceptance of themselves while seeking validation from the same folx who make them question their own existences. People who also have no qualms about stomping on anyone or anything that threatens the castle of luxury that they’ve grown so accustomed to. On one hand, it’s revealing and contemplative, while on the other it’s almost surreal because of how unrealistic it can feel to an average person (referring to the wealth that’s depicted, not the political turmoil; that is very relatable around the globe). That’s also sort of its appeal however; a fantastical look into the darker parts of the world most people shall never experience.
The story hops between anecdotes of old family memories and scrutiny of painful events with the hopes of determining if this tragedy could’ve been avoided. Because our main character is attempting to discern a motive, she’s extremely contrite about many things, things that she doesn’t have a reason to be so repentant about. While this adds to the emotional expressiveness of her plight, it can also make it somewhat frustrating. Additionally, these qualities, overall, make it a very difficult book to read, which is further exasperated by its non-linear expression. Unfortunately, these reminisces also became the biggest downfall of the novel.
There are huge bricks of information that, more often than not, sprout up randomly while being sandwiched between flowery, purple prose. So much of the information provided is too much information. I understand it works to create a foundation for character and narrative development, but it leaves little to the imagination and only contributes to it feeling horribly stretched out and over exhausted. For example, in one portion, the protagonist begins to reflect on the political situation in Indonesia in the late 1990s as a way to provide context for other thoughts and events. This section could’ve have been a page and a half at most, but rather ends up spanning a handful more. At one point, this exposition is far disconnected from the actual tale that I had question of the point of it’s inclusion, at least to such a meticulous degree. The book could easily lose about 100 pages and work as a solid novella on family drama. I wouldn’t classify it as a thriller because it doesn’t have the edge-of-your-seat intrigue that would make for a good thriller, by far. Anyway, some folx may like the extra padding and flux of textual walls and others most decidedly will not. I definitely didn’t care for it, and it’s what led to me dropping a couple stars.
Lastly, I question the representation of Chinese and even Muslim identities in this book. I’m not Chinese or Indonesian, but it really felt like it perpetuates some harmful stereotypes, particularly Western ones. So, I’d be wary of that going into it.
Even so, it’s also extremely thought-provoking in many respects (multicultural identities, obsession with perfection and control, toxicity of co-dependency, the psychological abuses associated with lying, and more), making it unexpectedly evocative at numerous points.
Recommended for readers of contemporaries that dissect multifaceted familial dynamics and the secrets that sometimes make/break the bonds between people, who also don’t mind lots of fluff in between the plot points.
2.75 fungi outta 5!