Friday, February 10, 2012
THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG by Richard Mason
A picturesque romance develops between a Hong Kong prostitute and a British painter.
The World of Suzie Wong, also a film, is a well-known Hong Kong love story, but this is the first time I've read it. It is about a British painter who moves into a waterfront hotel, where rooms are normally rented by the hour, hoping to capture real, colorful Hong Kong life. He spends time in the hotel bar painting and getting to know the working girls when they aren't busy picking up sailors. He develops a friendship with Suzie Wong, a lively Shanghainese girl with a unique outlook on the world.
The book shifts between romanticizing the lives of the prostitutes and bringing the reader back to the reality of their situation. This feels authentic because Robert is experiencing this shifting perspective as he gets to know the girls. He refrains from judgment, except when he's talking about the other Westerners in Hong Kong. Mason captures the complicated, intersecting relationships between Westerners and locals in a setting that is both glamorous and very grim.
The writing style is rich with descriptions, and reveals the unique vibrancy of post-war Hong Kong. This book discusses mature themes in a frank, but not overly gratuitous manner. It certainly wouldn't qualify as erotica, but I wouldn't recommend it to my mom :). The characters are the strong point of this novel. Each one is flawed and authentic. Mason has created vivid and enduring personalities that stick with you beyond the last page.
I bought the new paperback edition at Swindon Book Co. The Kindle edition is $9.99.
What is the first novel or film you think of when you think of Hong Kong? Have you seen the film version of this book?