“Fragrant Harbour” by John Lanchester

Date finished: 17th May 2012

Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester tells the story of four different people whose lives have taken them to Hong Kong, but through their lives, Lanchester gives us the history of this city over the last seventy years of the twentieth century.

At first, I wasn’t sure about the book. The first persons story was interesting, but seemingly innocuous, especially when you start to read the second characters, Tom Stewart, story. Tom’s story 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 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 books from this author.

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