The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng

In 1947 South Africa, Lesley Hamlyn is living alone on a farm when she receives a book: a collection of short stories by the writer W. Somerset Maugham. She knew Willie once; he was a friend of her husband’s and once stayed with them for a couple of weeks when they lived in Malaysia. But who could have sent this book? Dipping back into her memories of Willie’s visit, Lesley remembers the tension of that time: it overlapped with the murder trial of her best friend, Ethel Proudlock, who was accused of shooting a man in self-defence following an attempted rape. And Lesley also remembers what she told Willie, which inspired one of his stories.

This is a novel rich in description, set in the British colonial upper class, largely in Malaysia. Tan Twan Eng’s sentences are works of art, and despite not much happening in this story, the events are peeled back slowly, and with great suspense. The British characters on whom the novel is focused are hypocritical in how they engage with their transplanted homes, and it’s a subtle, cutting critique of the behaviour of the white settlers. There are also lots of fictional portrayals of famous people – including Maugham, there’s Sun Yat Sen, and even a mention of Anna Leonowens. I don’t think it was mind-blowing, but it was beautifully written, and I wouldn’t be upset to see it on the Booker shortlist.

Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang and lived in various places in Malaysia as a child. His first novel, The Gift of Rain, was longlisted for the Man Booker. His second, The Garden of Evening Mists was a major international bestseller, shortlisted for the Man Booker, and winner of the Man Asia Literary Prize and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. It was adapted into an award-winning film in 2019 that was directed by Tom Lin. Twan divides his time between Malaysia and South Africa.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Bloomsbury Publishing (Oct. 17 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1639731938
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1639731930