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Author: Tan Twan Eng
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."