In his new novel Fragrant Harbour
John Lanchester, as in his previous books, shows an impressionist's gift for adopting different voices for his narrator. The moral hedonist Tarquin Winot who tells his story in The Debt to Pleasure
and the downsized suburbanite whose inner monologues provide the material for Mr Phillips
could hardly be more contrasting characters, yet Lanchester makes both equally convincing.
In Fragrant Harbour much of the story is told in the words of Tom Stewart, a young Englishman who sails to Hong Kong in the 1930s and ends up spending the rest of his long life there. The voice of Stewart--reserved, humane and understated--is as finely achieved as those in the earlier novels. Through his eyes we see Hong Kong's 20th-century history. The class-ridden and racially divided society of the 1930s is given the brutal awakening of the Japanese occupation. After the war, the old Hong Kong disappears and the city is transformed by economic boom and entrepreneurial energy. The approaching return of the city to mainland China brings its own problems, anxieties and upheavals.
Against this backdrop, Stewart's life, and particularly his relationship with Maria, a Chinese nun he first meets as he is travelling out from England in 1935, unfolds. Lanchester intertwines personal histories and the city's history with great skill, showing how the past lives on, even in a city as resolutely modern as Hong Kong. The narrator of the book's last section, a young businessman called Matthew Ho, may be the embodiment of the new Hong Kong but, as he knows himself, his life has been decisively marked by the old. --Nick Rennison
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'There's a depth and emotional candour here that, long after you have finished the book, is hard to forget... Fragrant Harbour is really a love letter to Hong Kong, redolent with the bright shine of romance and nostalgia for the indefinable essence of a place.' Observer 'Provides both the detail and panorama of a fascinating city... it has a cracking emotional thrust.' Financial Times