Home can mean many different things to different people. It can be family, a place of safety, or a nightmare for its current and past residents. Ai Jiang’s horror novella, Linghun, explores not only the grief of losing a loved one, but also ancestral roots in the setting of a haunted house and neighborhood where residents just do not want to let go.
Linghun centers around a neighborhood community called HOME. The houses in the entire neighborhood, except for one, have the capability to allow those living within their walls to see the dead. While families across the country wish to live in these houses, there are only two ways to get a chance. One is through a very secretive special auction. The other is if the previous owners sell directly or privately to a new buyer, which is the case for our protagonist, Wenqi, and her family. Wenqi’s family receives a house in HOME from another family member, but this is kept a secret from the rest of the town folk in the community.
Ever since Wenqi’s older brother passed away when he was six years old from a tragic accident, the family has been fractured. As a traditional Chinese family, Wenqi’s parents don’t care for her much since she was born a female, so her brother was her parents’ everything. The family dynamic is so toxic that instead of the parents focusing on their living daughter, they live in HOME to catch glimpses of their deceased son.
HOME also provides a few other perspectives of the various residents in this community such as Wenqi’s love interest, Liam, and the mysterious Mrs. While there is a small love plot, it doesn’t detract from the actual horror the novella delves into. Liam is considered a lingerer; he’s not a ghost, but an interested homebuyer. Lingerers camp outside the haunted houses 24/7 in hopes they can get a chance to live in it next to see their deceased loved ones.
The character Mrs. is the only resident of the community that has a house that is not haunted and is possibly the only one with self-awareness of what’s really happening to the people in this town other than our main protagonist Wenqi. There are parallels between the two despite their vastly different pasts, but their journeys throughout the novella represents what home truly means.
Jiang packs a lot into her short novella, yet it’s also just enough to perfectly tell her story. Only around 100 pages long, Jiang’s novella fully conveys an intricate story about grief and how it affects the living. She delves into the actual horror of what the living will do to keep “lingering” and that instead of the dead haunting them, the haunts are those who are still living. Jiang also explores how aside from loss of life, grief and longing can stem from the loss of ancestral roots, culture, and identity.
Jiang doesn’t hold back the horror in this novella. Linghun fits right in with the likes of Junji Ito and Black Mirror in their exploration of the darker undertones of human nature when it comes to dealing with grief. The novella offers so much that it deserves a reread to further appreciate the details. Amidst the horror, Linghun brings up the ultimate question: what does home mean to you?