According to the blurb, The Majesties is what readers could expect if Crazy Rich Asians had been written by Gillian Flynn, and since I loved both of those things, I was excited to pick it up. Author Tiffany Tsao has created a complex story of extreme wealth, dysfunctional family relationships, and the deep desire to understand who and what shapes us into the people we are today.
Sisters Gwendolyn and Estella have grown up in the lap of luxury. Their family is one of the wealthiest in Indonesia, and the girls are no strangers to fancy houses, exclusive boarding schools, and extravagant vacations, but beneath the surface of this super successful family lurks a darkness both girls try hard to avoid. When Estella manages to secretly poison 300 guests at her grandfather’s lavish birthday party and Gwendolyn is the only survivor, it’s clear some deep soul-searching is in order.
Gwendolyn hasn’t survived Estella’s attack unscathed. In fact, when the story opens, she’s lying in a hospital bed in a sort of coma. She’s barely aware of what’s going on around her, but her memories of the past are stark and vivid. As medical professionals work to save her life, Gwendolyn struggles to piece together what led up to Estella’s desperate act, hoping to come to terms with her own role in the tragedy as well.
What follows is a look at one family’s path to destruction, a path littered with shattered trust and soul-deep betrayals. Tiffany Tsao tells this darkly disturbing story with a dream-like quality that allows readers to feel as though they themselves have taken up residence inside Gwendolyn’s troubled psyche. Events don’t always unfold in a linear fashion, and there were a few times I had to go back and reread certain passages just so I could make sure I had a firm understanding of the chronology of events. Hopefully, readers won’t be put off by the slightly confusing nature of the narrative; everything really does become clear as the story progresses.
I do think the description of the novel is a little misleading. Comparing it to a Gillian Flynn novel implies a certain type of suspense, the kind that keeps readers glued to the pages, but that’s not the feeling I got from reading The Majesties. This is a much quieter story, a slow unfolding of a chain of catastrophic events that don’t initially seem all that terrible. It’s not until readers are made aware of the enormous ripple effect each character’s actions have on the world at large that the true darkness is revealed. I think I’d classify this book as more of a literary mystery rather than a novel of psychological suspense.
There are a lot of characters here, some of whom only make brief appearances while others show up again and again. It’s a little challenging to keep everyone straight, but it’s manageable if you aren’t opposed to a bit of a mental workout. No character is superfluous though. Each has something unique and necessary to add to the story.
I’ve purposely avoided giving specific details about what prompted Estella to commit such a horrifying crime because part of this novel’s appeal comes from allowing each secret to be revealed in its own time. Hints of what’s to come would only serve to cheapen the reading experience, so, if my review has intrigued you, I hope you’ll pick the novel up and try it for yourself. It’s not an easy read, but it’s definitely worth your time and attention.