Star Rating: ***
First published in 2014 by The Book Guild Ltd
We never really understand how the lives of others, often those we don’t even know, are so intricately weaved with our own. We pass people every day without knowing their names, making assumptions about who they are, the way they live their lives without a seconds thought for the actual person themselves. Harbour Views is such a story; one looking at how people can be intertwined without knowledge.
Jakob Odergaard is a successful business man of Norwegian birth but with Hong Kong running through his veins. After 30 years he has built up a successful furniture corporation and is reaching an age where work could take a back seat and relaxation should be taking over. Unfortunately life never works out as people plan and in the opening chapters Jakob’s life comes to a bitter end, however, you will have to wait until the closing pages to read about the finer details of his demise.
Listening to the employees at Odergaard Holdings you would assume that Jakob was an extremely positive, endearing individual; well-loved by all which led to a loyal workforce. Peel back the layers however, and you discover that first impressions can sometimes be misleading.
If speaking to those closer to Jakob they would describe him as an arrogant, egotistical womaniser. His wife, a cold-hearted, bitter woman may outwardly support her husband, standing by his side at business functions but secretly knows of his extra-marital affairs whilst his daughter openly disapproves of her parents, their values and what they stand for and is happy to vocalise these thoughts to anyone who will listen.
This is a dark comic story that could closely relate to the theory of ‘six degrees of separate’. Whilst it is centred on Jakob Odergaard we learn very little about the man himself but more about the people around him.
One of the main threads of the novel stems from Jakob’s latest love affair – a rather disillusioned young lady by the name of Mandy Plumpkin. A ‘Z’ list actress trying desperately to make it in a competitive world whilst age is against her, who believes that if she is seen with the right people she will develop a reputation that will lead to wealth and fame. Whilst Jakob soon losses interest others seem to be in hot pursuit of her assets and it is not long before two admirers are battling for her affections – although in very different ways.
Anil Patel, a good-looking Brit, escaping London in search of wanderlust and excitement, has landed in Hong Kong and found a job at Odergaard Holdings in the transportation department. Tasked with delivering flowers to the Harbour Hotel on behalf of Jakob he gets his first glance of what will later become an infatuation for him, Mandy. If however, he believes his path to success will be easy he is very much mistaken. Work is low paid, he has no contacts in the film industry and with no future plans this is not someone that Mandy would normally take a second look at, there is just one thing that makes him stand out from the crowd – his looks.
Claude Halt, CFO of Odergaard Holdings, has money and contacts and is completely blind-sighted by the blonde he has decided to show around city. Knowing that Jakob has lost interest the only way to make sure that Mandy causes no issues is to keep her busy. He has an opportunity with a travelling theatre company that he believes would be perfect for her – but will she? He also needs to convince Geoffrey Keso, of the Provo International Theater Company, that Mandy would be an ideal leading actress in their next play. With complications mounting it is unlikely that Claude is going to come out of this unscathed when battling both feelings and finances in order to please a woman he barely knows.
Working for Jakob, and responsible for sending Anil over to the Harbour Hotel, is Carol Tung. Long serving and loyal to obsessive levels she has come to believe that Jakob at one time had feelings for her. Supporting a teenage son and a maid is not easy and the desire to maintain a certain standard soon takes it toil. Slipping into what appears to be a depressive state Carol goes in search of male company and finds it in Isidor Nash, a low-life that believes everyone owes him something. Isidor can also be linked to both Anil, a long-standing drinking partner, and Carol Tung’s son, Wai Pang – although to divulge how they are all intertwined would definitely spoil the story for anyone that intends to read it!
Wai Pang has a strong appreciation for one particular teacher; a teacher that doesn’t stick to the rules; one that allows a child to think for themselves which is unheard of in Hong Kong: that teacher is Eric Manley. Eric, a middle-aged Spaniard that is still trying to find his way in the world, is married to Sigrid, Jakob’s long-suffering, estranged daughter. More into flowers than designer labels Sigrid has become a blip on her parents radar and whenever they are together irritation soon boils to the surface: for Jakob it’s the fact that Sigrid has his mind but lacks the desire and for Sigrid it’s the fact that neither of her parents have an ounce of regard for anyone other than themselves – they cannot even bear to be in the same room as each other most of the time.
As the story develops relationship lines blur further, things become more complicated and for some nothing is quite what it seems. Tangled and messy lives collide and no-one walks away without scars.
This is an eye-opening, well-written novel that explores how one life can effect that of others without knowledge or regard. It will make you think about your own life, how you impact those around you and what assumptions you make about people you see every day.
If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy reading the interview with Philip Chatting which can be found here.
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