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Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester


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Synopsis (from the back of the book):

Fragrant Harbour is the story of four people whose intertwined lives span Asia's last seventy years. Tom Stewart leaves England just before it is hit by the Great Depression to seek his fortune, and finds it in running Hong Kong's best hotel. Sister Maria is a beautiful and uncompromising Chinese nun whom Stewart meets on the boat out from England; their friendship spans decades and changes both their lives. Dawn Stone is an English journalist who becomes the public face of money and power and big business. Matthew Ho is a young Chinese entrepreneur whose life has been shaped by painful choices made long before his birth, and who is now facing his own difficulties, and opportunities, in the twenty-first century.


My review:

At first, I wasn't sure about the book. The first characters story was interesting, but seemingly innocuous, esepcially when you get to the second story, following Tom Stewart. Tom's tale is the meat on the bones of this book. Escaping from what he predicts would be a stilted, safe life in England, he sails to Hong Kong in the mid-1930s. His adventure starts with a bet on board the ship, which along with the contacts he makes on the journey, springboards him into a successful career in the hotel industry. By the end of the book, the four characters have played a significant part in one or all of the other peoples lives, resulting in an absorbing and fascinating book.


I have to admit, it was only after I'd almost finished the book, that I realised this was actually a book on my OH's TBR list that had somehow wheedled it's way on to mine, but I'm very glad it did! I knew very little about Hong Kong before reading this book, and it was a bit like a crash course in fiction form, but I got completely caught up, particularly in Tom's life. I loved the style of writing which was very straight forward, and simply told the story, while it felt that the author felt affection for his characters, and I thought it gave heart to the book.


A very enjoyable book, so I'll be looking out for more from Lanchester, and a discussion at home has indicated I only have to hunt the bookshelves in my own house to find some!

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  • 2 years later...

My boyfriend's got The Debt to Pleasure somewhere on the bookshelves, which was his first novel, so I intend to read that, and I'm going to buy his second novel, Mr Phillips, at some point too.  He obviously takes his time writing his novels though, as Capital is only his fourth novel in 16 years! :)

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I see I replied to this thread back in 2012, but still haven't read the book. So typical! :D


Anyway, I have just finished Capital and thought it was brilliant, one of the best of the year for me, so I shall be bumping this one up the list.

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