On Borrowed Time by Graeme Hall

My thanks to the author and the publisher for asking me to take part in this blog tour – this review forms my honest opinion.

Blurb

On Borrowed Time is set in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the period 1996/1997 – including the handover of Hong Kong to China. The novel explores the choices that people have to make; in particular between doing what is easy and what is right.

In Hong Kong, Emma Janssen discovers the truth behind the death of her brother four years earlier. Meanwhile, in Shanghai, a PhD student meets a woman with an unusual degree of interest in his research. These storylines converge at the time of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, and Emma finds that she has to choose between revenge or the future happiness and safety of both herself and those close to her.

While being a work of fiction, On Borrowed Time is rooted in the author’s own experiences of living and working in Hong Kong from 1993 to 2010, in particular the final years of British rule and the transfer of sovereignty back to China.

Review

I absolutely adored Graeme’s collection of short stories, The Goddess of Macau last year (it even made my Top Reads of the Year list) and so when I was asked if I would be interested in being involved, it really was a no-brainer.

On Borrowed Time takes place in a dual time line, before and at the time of the handover of Hong Kong to China. At the times this novel was set I was leaving primary school/starting secondary school and in all honesty, I have the very vaguest of recollections of world news at the time and even now, I can’t say that I know too much about the politics behind it all. I did wonder if that would hinder my enjoyment of the novel, however just as with The Goddess of Macau (which was also completely out of my geographical comfort zone) the author has such a wonderful way of imparting information through the narrative, that I didn’t feel at all out of the loop. With such a complex subject, it’s an impressive skill to be able to deliver both story and information in a way where each is complimentary to the other without the descriptive portion outweighing the plot.

You can tell throughout that the author has a deep love for Hong Kong. the sense of place is all encompassing and despite never even coming close to visiting to the country, I felt as if I was there. Graeme has a talent for creating believable, well rounded characters, and (just as he did with his short stories) is able to establish them quickly on the page. I find his writing style incredibly soothing, I’m able to relax into it and as a result a find that I’m devouring pages at a time.

It’s a novel that straddles across several genres (political, historical, romance, thriller, espionage….) without falling wholly into any of them. It wasn’t the breakneck thriller style novel I was expecting, it’s far more subtle and with that it feels much more real, making the events of the novel less pure ‘entertainment’ and more something that you could feasibly see yourself reading about in the newspaper. It feels a completely respectful representation of a difficult, controversial time in the not too distant past and I found myself utterly entranced and invested, with time disappearing as I read on.

One of the most successful elements of this novel are the characters, their interwoven stories and the wide range of issues they represent whether they be Emma and Sam, the Brits in Hong Kong forced to assess their future in a changing landscape, Kwok-wah the promising student going against the concerns of his family to pursue further education in Shanghai, Alice and her forbidden romance or the tragic story of Granny Sun. There is so much packed into this novel.

Compelling, wonderfully written and kept my unwavering attention throughout. I cannot wait to read more from Graeme Hall.

About the Author

Graeme lived in Hong Kong from 1993 to 2010 and still keeps a close connection to the city. His first novel was set in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the period 1996/97 and most of his writing comes from his love of that part of the world. Graeme first visited Macau in 1993 and he quickly became fascinated by the oldest European settlement in Asia. His short story collection, ‘The Goddess of Macau’ was published in August 2020 by Fly on the Wall Press.

He has won the short story competitions of the Macau Literary Festival and the Ilkley Literature Festival, and his writing has been published in anthologies by Black Pear Press and the Macau Literary Festival. He is an active member of the Leeds Writers Circle whose members have been a constant source of advice, support and encouragement. Graeme lives in Calderdale, West Yorkshire with his wife and a wooden dog.

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