Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Fast Company

Breaking the Rules: A Novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford (St. Martin’s Paperbacks; $7.99)

“She is a top supermodel, one of the world’s most beautiful women.   Men love her.   Women adore her.   So why is someone trying to kill her?”

Who are these people?

Fortitude, commitment and romance are the main ingredients of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Emma Harte series.   Breaking the Rules is the seventh and most recent book in the series.   Considering the squeaky clean virtuous heroine, M, readers will soon realize that she isn’t the one breaking the rules.   Yes, our spunky and independent English lass has some felonious thoughts; however, since M does not follow through with putting them into play, she is able to retain her image.

Author Bradford seems to abhor loose ends and she takes 488 pages to provide her reader with a neatly bundled story.   What this reviewer wants to know is who are these people populating the story?   Surely there is a family with extreme wealth and power headed by gorgeous women whose great loves are lurking just around the corner.   Maybe they exist in never, never land, but not in the real world.

Maybe that’s the draw of romance novels.   They are geared to transport the reader away from the mundane and, in recent times, painful reality of every-day-life.   What is the target audience?   Is there an age group that Bradford aims to please?   If so, perhaps happily married, grandmas-to-be aren’t  part of the group.   Too much fantasy, just like too many cooks, can spoil the story for a reader who takes pleasure in the small joys of life.

By the way, the costly pink champagne used throughout the story is a not-so-subtle indicator that Bradford’s characters are more than a cut above the average celebrant.   Too bad she had to hammer the reader over the head with the reference!   The Hermes Kelly handbags were proof enough that these people are not at all like you and me!

Recommended if you like that sort of book.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the book was purchased for her.   Barbara Taylor Bradford’s new novel is Playing the Game (St. Martin’s Press; $27.99; 400 pages).

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Song Sung Blue

The Ghost of Neil Diamond by David Milnes

Commenting on the status of the modern hero in fiction, Martin Amis argued, “Nowadays our protagonists are a good deal lower down the human scale than their creators:  they are anti-heroes, sub-heroes.”   One hopes that this dictum holds true for David Milnes, author of The Ghost of Neil Diamond.   For Milnes’ protagonist, bearing the blandly English name of Neil Atherton, is a lost man on the edge of the abyss.

Atherton has washed up in Hong Kong, dragged into the territory on the coat-tails of his wife, Angel.   Back in England, back in the past, he had known modest success as a musician on the folk scene club circuit.   But now he’s 48, these meagre stage triumphs are a fading memory and Atherton appears increasingly redundant to his younger wife, who has carved out a niche for herself in the city’s corporate hierarchy.

Eventually, an exasperated Angel washes her hands of her husband, leaving him enough Hong Kong dollars for a flight back to the United Kingdom with some to spare.   But Atherton refuses to retreat with his tail between his legs.   He falls into the ambit of Elbert Chan, a diminutive Cantonese businessman operating from a seedy backstreet office.   Chan handed his business card to the Englishman after a rousing rendition of “Song Sung Blue” and now dangles before the destitute Atherton the lucrative prospect of being part of a celebrity tribute act.   Neil’s preparation is not just to learn how to sing like Neil Diamond but, in some Zen-like way, to become the American superstar.

While waiting for Chan’s purported connections to open doors, Atherton spends his nights on the floor of a language school’s classroom and purgatorial days wandering the humid streets of an alien city.   There are echoes here of Poe’s short story, “The Man of the Crowd.”

Ostensibly rooted in the superficial world of tribute singers, this is a book that subtly plays with the tropes associated with its subject matter to raise some interesting questions about what represents the real, and what constitutes the fake.   Crossing the spectacular Tsing Ma Bridge, Atherton reflects on the engineers and builders who make this feat of engineering possible and compares their achievement with his own contribution to this world:

His sort need not be taken at all.   There was…  a need of some kind for people such as Neil Diamond, though surely even they must find it hard to live with themselves after a while.   But whatever case could be made for the pedlar of…  illusion, there was surely no case at all to defend one who only followed, the counterfeit and imposter running along behind.

This angst over how the professional impostor can maintain his self-worth reaches a crescendo in the novel’s second half, when Atherton’s attempt to usurp another Diamond impersonator – a photocopy of a photocopy – threatens to annihilate his personality.

This book has its comic aspects, but it’s a dark comedy.   The environment through which the main actor moves like a ghost is deftly evoked.   The ambience of subterranean hotel bars is conjured with a reference to mirror balls that “shed loose change all over the floor.”   The Star Ferry that shuttles between Kowloon and the island is revivified with a simile:  “Children scrambled ahead and flipped over the back-rests, making a wonderful clattering sound across the teak decks, like the fall of mah-jong tiles.”

Above all, this book meditates on how the city can be framed in radically different ways:  how it appears in the floor-to-ceiling panes of an exclusive hotel’s breakfast bar as opposed to the prospect offered by the windows of a McDonald’s.

Despite some ragged edges, this is a work of unexpected substance.

This review was written by Shane Berry.   It appeared in original form (“A Ghost of a Chance”) on the Dublin, Ireland based writing website A Harmless Fraud; http://www.harmlessfraud.com/ .   Used with the permission of the reviewer and the book’s author, David Milnes.

 

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