The Funeral Cryer, by Wenyan Lu
Wenyan Lu’s debut novel, The Funeral Cryer, won the SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2020.
The novel tells the story of a woman who finds work as a funeral cryer in a small Chinese village. She has a difficult relationship with her husband and her daughter lives far away, in the city.
As the Funeral Cryer struggles with her role and her place in her family and in the village, she begins a tentative friendship with a local man who offers kindness and respect.
Reading group questions
1. The Funeral Cryer is about the rituals of death and the way they help us manage grief. How does the service offered by the funeral cryer help her clients?
2. How does the funeral cryer experience death differently when someone she knows passes away, rather than a client?
3. How does the author capture the importance of tradition in this novel?
4. The main characters in the novel are not given names, instead they are known as the funeral cryer, the husband, the daughter, the barber. Other characters, such as Hotpot, have nicknames. What impact does this have on the story?
5. The funeral cryer and the husband have a difficult marriage. What mistakes do you think they made to get to this point in their relationship?
6. The husband had ambitions to study at university, but they came to nothing. Now he refuses to get a manual job in the village to support his family and spends hours playing mahjong with his friends. What do you think this says about his character?
7. At times, the funeral cryer worries about finding enough work, but she concludes that her services will always be needed as people will always die. Do you think this is true?
8. Through the funeral cryer’s marriage and the story of her neighbour Hotpot, we learn about gender roles in the village and the positions women are able to occupy in society. Who do you think has the most challenges to face: the funeral cryer or Hotpot?
9. The novel also contrasts village life with life in China’s major cities. What differences does the reader see?
10. In her small village, people are prone to gossip and speculation about others. Do you think this has an impact on the funeral cryer and the choices she makes?
11. Hair is an important part of the funeral cryer’s preparations each time she has a job, which leads her to build a relationship with the barber. Do you think her appearance is important to her role, or is it simply an excuse to spend time with the barber?
12. Throughout the novel, the funeral cryer’s relationship with the barber develops in unexpected ways. How did the ending of the story make you feel?