Book Review: ‘Handover’ by Paul Blaney
On July 1, 1997, the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong became the unique Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, ending 156 years of colonial rule. Hong Kong, which translates to “Fragrant Harbor,” had for years been considered in financial, governmental and tourism circles, as a shining jewel.
The colony attracted many expatriates who were lured there for the heady “East-Meets-West” mix of people, the city’s dazzling cultural attractions and nightlife, the innovative high-density architecture and by the prospects of fortunes to be made and new lives to be started. Expats, however, always live within a curious limbo because they are never quite native and never quite who they were before they arrived. This limbo became more intense in Kong Kong as the date of the handover from British to Chinese rule approached.
Three interlocking stories comprise Paul Blaney’s novella Handover (Signal 8 Press, November 2012). His three expat Brits arrive in Hong Kong and find that the complexities of their own lives are somehow made more urgent and dear because of the changes and potential turbulence of the long-awaited handover.
Tess, whose aunt and uncle live in Kong Kong, graduates from college and then arrives and finds work as a photo editor. Rob arrives with a head filled with memories of a former girlfriend who once lived there and begins to relive them while working as a bartender. Sally, a magazine editor, must confront on-the-job sexual harassment and the abandonment of her family when she defends herself and ends up in the colony’s criminal justice system.
The novella’s sections, each of which is—like Kong Kong—a compact and shining jewel, are bound together by the setting, minor characters and by the looming political and cultural manifestations of the handover. The stories are told in a non-linear style, giving them a kaleidoscopic organization and texture akin to that of Hong Kong itself. As such, the the novella depicts multiple slices of life rather than a traditional tale with a plot line leading through conflicts to an overt resolution.
Well-read readers may see the dark and gritty world of Blaney’s expats as a prospective new level of hell for Dante’s Divine Comedy: here in a heady world where everything wonderful is so close and so possible, doom is a likely result. Adventurous readers, those who love new things, new things with a hint of danger and intrigue, will discover that Paul Blaney’s Handover has many gritty delights to offer.
The novella is also a spot-on description of the the beauty and poverty of Kong Kong during a time in its history when nothing was certain.
The author of contemporary fantasy and paranormal short stories, Malcolm R. Campbell enjoyed his long-ago visit to Hong Kong and was happy when Signal 8 Press supplied a complimentary copy of a novel set in one of his favorite tourist destinations.