by Christine Coleman
Novel Press 2010
I am heartened to read a novel which has caught up with Cinema’s way of telling a story -everything in present tense, as though the reader is watching the story unfold on a screen.
Paper Lanterns is intellectually stimulating and a piece of cracking good story telling, told in present tense with flashbacks to the past through diaries, letters and reminiscences. Chronologically it begins in 1927 in Hong Kong, when silly, bored young wives accompanied their husbands to exotic outposts like Hong Kong. But the narrator is Ann, an unlikely romantic heroine, 50+, in a pedestrian marriage with Graham, her two children grown, and made to feel inadequate. But like everyone else in Paper Lanterns she has depths. When she learns that her mother, Vivienne, has been abandoned in Hong Kong by her long term lover Ann flies to her aid and finds a totally different situation to what she expected. She not only unravels the story of three generations of her own family, she finds new relatives she had no knowledge of, especially George. She literally bumps into him in the airport.
Christine Coleman’s characters are believable, human¸ and complex, even that dastardly philanderer. Rupert, who awakens Ann’s grandmother to her real sexuality. It is true that many wives at that time did not know what an orgasm was and Belle’s description in her diary is a very true piece of reporting, told in lyrical prose. The story is intelligent, masterfully constructed, and challenges middle class conventions about sex after fifty, promiscuity and adultery. .
But the real star of this novel is the Island of Hong Kong itself, its crowds, its streets, its smells, its lifestyles. I shall have to go and see it for myself..
Paper Lanterns is available from email@example.com , price about NZ$24 pp.
It would make a lovely Mother’s Day gft.