Monday, December 31, 2012
Handover - Paul Blaney
If you have ever lived in a foreign country, you will already know that no matter how sincere your efforts or able your language skills - and no matter how your adopted country might become a part of you - you will never be entirely of it. The expat is prevented from complete belonging by the temporary nature of his or her stay, subtleties of language, limited cultural knowledge, allegiances elsewhere. Far removed from family and old friends, and often (thanks to housing allowances and expatriate salaries and the way foreign currncy looks like monopoly money) some of the more usual financial burdens, he lives in a peculiar bubble. In this alien, in-between existence, one could easily lose his bearings.
Therein lies potential danger, for no matter how welcoming a foreign government might seem, it will never claim and protect the expatriate as one of its own. In Paul Blaney's novella Handover (Signal 8 Press, 2012), we follow three British expatriates living in Hong Kong in 1997 during the historic transition from British to Chinese governance. Our characters' stories unfold against a backdrop of changing rules and an unsure future. Tess has an affair with a local man but then breaks it off; her guilt brings her to his mother's house where she is confronted by a profound dissonance between city and country, past and present. Rob arrives in Hong Kong in a state of confusion, haunted by an old love; as his story evolves it becomes chillingly clear that this is not a traditional tale of a broken heart. In the third, a women's magazine journalist, about to go on trial for arranging a hit on a man who harassed her, awaits the handover in a Hong Kong prison cell. It is a fragile time in which to make mistakes - with British and Chinese governments both wanting a smooth transition, the stakes for Blaney's characters are especially high. Tess, Rob, and Sally's fates hang in the balance. They are in unknown territory, untethered in a no-man's land of morality and nationality, and we wonder what will become of them.
Blaney's stories are suspenseful and dark, brisk, easy, and enjoyable to read. I liked being transported to Asia; the handover itself added an intriguing angle. Recommended for literary short fiction fans, especially those with an interest in Hong Kong or who have spent time as foreigners in far-off lands.
My thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review copy of Handover.
Happy New Year, and happy reading!