Tan Twan Eng

The House of Doors (hardcover)

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Longlisted for The Booker Prize 2023

The third novel from the Booker-shortlisted author exploring love, betrayal and morality in 1920s Penang. 

It is 1921 and at Cassowary House in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Robert Hamlyn is a well-to-do lawyer and his steely wife Lesley a society hostess. Their lives are invigorated when Willie, an old friend of Robert's, comes to stay. Willie Somerset Maugham is one of the greatest writers of his day. But he is beleaguered by an unhappy marriage, ill-health and business interests that have gone badly awry. He is also struggling to write. The more Lesley's friendship with Willie grows, the more clearly she sees him as he is - a man who has no choice but to mask his true self. As Willie prepares to leave and face his demons, Lesley confides secrets of her own, including how she came to know the charismatic Dr Sun Yat Sen, a revolutionary fighting to overthrow the imperial dynasty of China. And more scandalous still, she reveals her connection to the case of an Englishwoman charged with murder in the Kuala Lumpur courts - a tragedy drawn from fact, and worthy of fiction. From Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Tan Twan Eng, The House of Doors is a masterful novel of public morality and private truth a century ago. Based on real events, it is a drama of love and betrayal under the shadow of Empire.

Author: Tan Twan Eng
Hardcover  Published 18 July 2023  320 pages

Read and Recommended by Graeme:

"It’s been more than ten years since his last novel - the award-winning The Garden of Evening Mists - but The House of Doors also achieved near instant acclaim by being long-listed for the 2023 Booker Prize. The setting is 1921, Penang and one of the main characters is the famous writer W. Somerset Maugham at a particularly pivotal point in his life. Willie and his companion Gerald arrive in the colonial enclave to stay with an old friend Robert and his wife Leslie having recently endured a near-death experience. Willie is at the peak of his literary fame, yet also finds himself broke after a bad investment. He needs a money-making book desperately - to maintain his lifestyle, help retain the affections of Gerald and also keep his wife at bay. His hostess, Leslie, provides a story that fits the bill. In 2011, a close friend of hers, Ethel Proudlock, shot a man she claims tried to rape her and was put on trial for murder. But as Leslie recounts her insider version of Ethel’s crime she also reveals secrets of her own which could destroy her reputation. Although Maugham is adept at weaving the secrets he learns into his fiction, his own secrets are strictly off limits. There are no homosexual affairs in his writing and closeted sexuality is an important theme throughout The House of Doors. Equally taboo is sex between westerners and Asians and this is also explored. But the real highlight of the novel are the vibrant and atmospheric descriptions of colonial Penang which along with the beauty of Tan Twan Eng’s prose elevate this novel into something special. It leaves the reader wanting to know more about Penang as well as W. Somerset Maugham."

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