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9 November 2014

Harbour Views
Philip Chatting
Book Guild Publishing
Publication Date
May 2014

Swedish expatriate Jakob Obergaard rules his successful furniture corporation with a ruthlessness and egotism that draws comment even in the merciless cut and thrust of the Hong Kong business world. His tyranny warps the lives of all around him – his imperiously bitter wife Dagmar, his estranged hippyish daughter Sigrid and his sexually frustrated administrator, Mrs Tung, among them. Not even the blithely laddish Anil Patel, a company courier, is immune. 

In this jet-black comedy, lives are as tangled, messy and precarious as the streets of downtown Kowloon. In a world where ambition collides with passion, tradition with modernity, East with West, no one comes away unscathed. 

This is the accomplished debut novel by Hong Kong resident Philip Chatting, a sharply witty portrayal of one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities. 

<blockquote>My review:  

A good start which got me straight into the book. As an immigrant to another country (though nothing like Mr Odergaard and certainly not as rich!), I wanted to know his story. But the book took me a bit by surprise, as it is not so much a 'story of his life' but more of a character study of various people in Hong Kong. The book is clearly very much character-driven. 

There is the very rich and obnoxious Mr Odergaard and his even more obnoxious wife Dagmar, their hippy daughter and her somewhat humble teacher husband who has his own problems with his son. Than Carol Tung who works for Odergaard and is sexually frustrated, her son Wai Pang and their domestic helper Budiwati. Claude Halt, the Odergaard's company 2nd in command who in turn is pathologically obsessed with small-time actress Mandy Plumpkin. Than there is Anil Patel, a driver at Odergaards company, and probably my favourite character. I very much like his closing sentiments in the last chapter. A bit of a lad, but honest. I also liked the fact that almost all of the characters link up during the course of the book as their lives intersect.

The book is described as black comedy, and I will agree with this. You have to look behind the scenes here. The clever structure of the sentences makes it not always a very easy read, but if you do take your time, you will be rewarded with the author's clever way with words. Here is a quick example I picked out as I liked it so much:

...."Only the cook, who relished the fruits of her precession too much for her own good, was left to patch and recycle apparel purchased years ago to accommodate a once-younger girth...."

Excellent example of the black humour and way of words here. Can't we just all picture that rather oversized cook now? 

 Chatting lets us in into Hong Kong behind the scenes and some of those will stay with me, for example the way the domestic helpers are treated as a matter of norm or how children are educated just to get results i.e. Art is discouraged as a subject which does not bring a good job. 

This is not a cosy 'all is good at the end' read.  I would recommend this book if you are interested in expats stories, live in foreign countries and would like to read a different, more darker version which engages you to think. The characters may be exaggerated caricatures, but than maybe they are not, but that's the beauty of the book. 

<blockquote>About the author:  

Philip Chatting was born in Chester and schooled in London and California. He has spent the majority of his working life in human resource management, located variously in Africa, the Middle East, the USA and Asia, and for industries including copper mining, construction, newspapers and publishing. He is presently the Vice President of Human Resources for an export marketing company based in Hong Kong, where he lives with his wife and son.