Friday, June 19, 2009

Noble House

James Clavell wrote many classic books including King Rat, Shogun and Noble House among others. He died in 1994 and his book Gai-Jin was his last book. Other books include Whirlwind and Tai-pan, and he also was noted for the screenplays he wrote both for films based on his books and other films (notably To Sir With Love, The Fly and The Great Escape).

Noble house has become one of my favorite novels. This historical novel that is part of Clavell's "Asian Saga" contains large quantities of the Seven Deadly Sins, with avarice and lust leading the way. The story is set in mysterious Hong Kong in 1963, with its beautiful women, wealthy men, cultural clashes, and fascinating intrigue. A longtime feud between two of the largest financial houses revolves about Struan's - the Noble House - and its battle for economic survival. The plot is further complicated by the arrival of an interloping American power broker and his voluptuous assistant who plan to use the bad blood for their own financial gain. In the background the disenfranchised Chinese watch with great interest and hope to reap huge profits as the Europeans try to outwit each other.

The story is about its dealings with its many competitors. It combines a good amount of fiction, legend and big business and produces a great novel. The struggle between the two great houses sets up the conflict that any great piece of fiction requires. The reader is placed into a world that no longer exists - doubly so since Hong Kong has been returned to Chinese control. It is a world where Tai-Pans - heads of large companies battle each other for money, power and survival. This is international gamesmanship at its highest level with no holds barred. Add gunrunning, opium smuggling, political intrigue, natural disasters, and riots, and the story keeps rolling along. Of note is the importance of the context of history with many of the plotlines drawing on international tensions that existed or were on the horizon in 1963. Hong Kong itself sets the backdrop for the novel and in the end its Hong Kong the affects the outcome of the struggle. The book is as fast-paced as any I have ever read and reminds me of the sort of Romantic swash-buckling adventures of Dumas and Sabatini.

If you haven't read a James Clavell novel start with this one or Shogun.

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