Kowloon Tong by Paul Theroux

The book had sat on my shelf, puzzingly unread, for 13 years.

And then we went to Hong Kong on holiday and “Kowloon Tong” went along too.

Reading a book about the place where you are staying is always fun, with the added piquancy of recognising names and places.  This is a wonderful read in any case, but reading it in situ was marvellous.

The novel is set in the last year of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, before the 1997 handover to China.  Or. as Mrs. Betty Mullard scathingly calls it, “the Chinese Takeaway.”

Betty and her 43 year old, unmarried, balding son Bunt are British, trapped in a damp, colonial time-warp.  They loathe most things Chinese, especially the food, have never bothered to visit, and aren’t remotely curious about so doing.  They lead a predictable, dull, uneventful life in Albion Cottage, looked after by Wang their silent servant, and the colour and noise and smells and politics of China and Hong Kong pass them by.

As the handover date looms ever closer, a mysterious Mr. Hung shows up and almost without their realising it, he has bought their factory.

Money makes Betty happier, and she initially takes quite a shine to the well-spoken Mr. Hung.  Bunt is less convinced, and as he realises his days in the colony, and at the helm of Imperial Stitching, are numbered, his normally well-planned, uneventful life descends into a vortex of horror and fear and – surprisingly – love.

The culture clash between The East and the Mullards is sharply drawn.  The increasing air of threat and menace that hangs over the book is superbly described, and by the end, I was turning the pages as quickly as I could to find out what happened, and then felt saddened that this marvellous book had ended.

A moving, gripping book.  I loved it.

Published by Penguin in 1997, the paperback I have cost £5.99 but it was bought 13 years ago…

 If you want to buy a copy –  and I do highly recommend this book – just click on the link below :