Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester

Fragrant Harbour

John Lanchester

I loved this book. I loved the atmosphere of Hong Kong, the view of the war as a resident, the tangled stories of the main protagonists and the times when the outcome was not what you expected. People who have lived in Hong King say it paints a really good picture of the colony before it was returned to China. I wish I could have visited it then, I fear it will not be the same now.


I had been taken by surprise by the ways in which I found Hong Kong a surprise. The exotic elements were what I had been expecting. Hakka women in their sombreros, which smelt of oil or lacquer; coolies dragging impossible bundles on their backs; rickshaw men, gold-toothed shoe shiners, gap-toothed Japanese business men, opium smokers visible through side street windows, eagles circling wind currents on the Peak, the brake man's crisp uniform on the Peak tram and the view from the Peak towards Kowloon; the mad clattering noise of mah-jong coming from servants quarters on a Sunday afternoon, girls in cheongsams showing more leg than I had ever seen; Europeans of no sure nationality, uncertain employment, and ambiguous appetite; family groups going for picnics on ancestors' graves; furious Chinese gods with green faces and red eyes; the smell of fermented fish outside Taoist temples; joss sticks, Chinese arts, mung-bean cake, dragon-boat races, face and joss and feng shui and the cheapest best tailors in the world, old women with bound feet - it would be untrue to say that all this was what I was expecting in detail, but the broader gist of it, yes. It was what I had come out here for. It wasn't Faversham and it wasn't the Plough.

The other side of Hong Kong, the expatriate side, was what took me by surprise.

  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  • Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard
  • A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Books with similar mood

Moses, Citizen and Me

Delia Jarrett-Macauley

Double Vision

Pat Barker

The Mariner's Star

Candida Clark

Fugitive Pieces

Anne Michaels

Death Is Hard Work

Khaled Khalifa

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien


Julia Leigh


Mick Kitson

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson

The World Unseen

Shamim Sarif


Anthony Cropper

Conscious and Verbal

Les Murray

The Island

R J Price

In the Distance

Hernan Diaz

Anatomy of a Soldier

Harry Parker

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord

Kim Leine


Tom Lee

Three Day Road

Joseph Boyden

Kith and Kin

Stevie Davies

We That Are Young

Preti Taneja


Cynan Jones

Wild Dogs

Helen Humphreys

The Quarry

Damon Galgut

The Cave

Jose Saramago

The Constant Gardener

John Le Carre

Say Something Back

Denise Riley

The Mussel Feast

Birgit Vanderbeke

This Blinding Absence of Light

Tahar Ben Jelloun

The English Years

Norbert Gstein


Michael Frayn


Sandor Marai

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Olga Tokarczuk

The Amber Fury

Natalie Haynes

Underground Time

Delphine de Vigan

In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut

A Book of Science and Antiquities

Thomas Keneally

Scenes from Village Life

Amos Oz

The Visiting Angel

Paul Wilson

Bad Boy Brawly Brown

Walter Mosley

Other People's Fathers

Romana Petri

Canone Inverso

Paolo Maurensig

Basket of Deplorables

Tom Rachman

Song for an Approaching Storm

Peter Fröberg Idling

After Me Comes the Flood

Sarah Perry

Baghdad Fixer

Ilene Prusher

Professor Andersen's Night

Dag Solstad

Pictures of Lily

Matthew Yorke

The Resurrectionist

James Bradley

The Diagnosis

Alan Lightman