Number One Chinese Restaurant was one of those books that I’d seen on bookstagram and had me intrigued. Lucky for me, when I first stumbled across this book in my feed it wasn’t far off of its publication date – so I didn’t have to wait long for it. I didn’t do too much research into Number One Chinese Restaurant before buying it – so I pretty much went into it blind, yet somehow I didn’t quite get what I thought I would.
When boiled down to the most basic elements, Number One Chinese Restaurant is a tale of two brothers, the managerial Johnny and the impulsive Jimmy and their family Chinese Restaurant. What follows is a family melodrama this was supposed to (I think) contain dark humour at the trials and tribulations the family members undergo. If there was any humour present it was lost on me.
The plot is divided into three main POV narratives; Ah-Jack, a waiter at the restaurant, Nan, a manager at the restaurant and Johnny – a co-owner of the restaurant with his brother, Jimmy. There is plenty of drama in each POV and they tend to be coupled up, for example Pat and Annie and Nan and Ah-Jack. Usually where there was one, the other character would always appear somehow and perhaps wouldn’t show up in other characters chapters.
“He had believed he wanted someone fun and ditzy, a girl as transparent and colorful as stained glass.”
I do have to admit that all of the chopping and changing between narratives, coupled with three characters having very similar names (Johnny, Jimmy and Jack) got very confusing – especially in the beginning.
Speaking of the characters though, I had a really tough time with them – not because their names sometimes got confusing, but because I didn’t like any of them. Even the minor characters weren’t redeemable. The characters weren’t exactly bad (with the obvious exception of the obvious villain) but they weren’t likeable either. I guess that’s what made them so real, as a lot of people in the real world aren’t exactly likeable, but it was quite boring not being able to root for someone.
All of the characters made questionable choices throughout the novel and there were times when I just wanted to reach into the pages of the book and smack the characters and shout “just get a fucking grip! Just talk to each other!” – honestly, I nearly rage quit the book at one point. And that’s coming from someone who really enjoys flawed characters – when they are done right. But these characters were so frustrating and irredeemable.
Now I know I’ve painted a fairly bad picture of the book – but there were some bad elements. There were some great elements too, I mean – I was engaged the whole time waiting to see what would happen next. But unfortunately the answer is: not much and not quickly.
“He’d had to dwell many times on a future without her, but he had done so abstractly: an empty house, a grave to visit, an anniversary of death.”
There were some serious drag points throughout the book and when all is said and done, the book kind of finished exactly where it started, minus one Chinese restaurant. There was no character development to be seen and there were no twists or turns in the narrative. The book wasn’t particularly quotable either – which is fine, not every book has to be, but it was particularly noticeable in Number One Chinese Restaurant.
But with all that being said, the book is a solid 3 star book and has a stronger first half. I’m not sure I’ll ever read it again, but it will make an great addition to my library for the amazing cover, which proves that there’s nothing wrong with simple if it’s good.
If you’re a fan of family drama then this book is definitely for you, although I do think that Pachinko by Min Jin Lee did this much better.
I see definite potential in the author and will likely look out for her next book because I did enjoy Number One Chinese Restaurant and it was kind of worth the wait…but I didn’t wait too long for the book.
” ‘If i dress like a beaten man, that’s what I become.’ he said.”
Are you hungry for Chinese food? You can buy Number One Chinese Restaurant here!
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.