This is definitely an original concept, though I found it somewhat hard to follow (on audio anyway).
Li Lan is a young Chinese girl whose mother died young, and her impoverished father, struggling to find a husband who can provide for her, one day jokingly asks if she’d like to be a “ghost bride.” This is what it sounds like, and I very much appreciated the author’s “afterword” after the story, explaining the cultural practice. It was very rare, even in Chinese culture, she said, but when it did occur, it typically was when the pair were already in love when one of them passed away, in order to grant rights of a widow to the surviving partner. In this story, however, the offer is from the wealthy family of a deceased son, to grant Li Lan residence in their wealthy home for the rest of her life. She’s not surprisingly horrified by the idea, as it would mean that she’ll never have love or children of her own. Her father only mentioned it half jokingly anyway, because it seems that the marriage he had been attempting to arrange for her (ironically with the cousin of the deceased) had fallen through.
But this is where the story turns supernatural. The ghost, whose name doesn’t stick in my mind, saw Li Lan during his life and desired her, and visits her in her dreams. But he’s not only dead, he’s also revolting (reminds me a bit of Beetlejuice). Meanwhile, Li Lan meets Tian Bai, her would-be husband and cousin to the dead suitor, and falls for him instead. In order to exercise her undead suitor, Li Lan visits a medium, obtains some herbs that should keep him from visiting her in her sleep, and then overdoses on them–at which point she herself hovers somewhere between life and death. In this suspended state, she travels through the realms of the dead, learning what she can about the hold the dead suitor has over her, and… this is kind of where I got lost. I wasn’t very clear on what it was that she was trying to accomplish in the land of the dead, though it was all very fantastical and creative.
There was a bit of a twist ending, though it wasn’t a huge shocker–we’d been rather set up for it. I don’t think it could really have ended any other way.