Water Music
a novel by Melanie Kershaw
ISBN 0-9705049-7-7
softcover      $12.95

Reviewed in The South China Morning Post
Tuesday, April 22, 2003

by Diana McPartlin

 

Out by Castle Peak Road there's an old colonial mansion, whitewashed with high ceilings and a grand central staircase. It's deserted and dilapidated now, but in the late 1960s it was the home of a British administrator who marveled at his good fortune in being given such a large and impressive residence. His superiors must have thought highly of him, he reasoned. But when something seems too good to be true, it usually is, and the house turned out to have a dark secret.

During WWII it was used by Japanese troops to interrogate and torture prisoners. The war may have been long over, but the ghosts remained. The senior administrators did not want to live there. The local Chinese servants were terrified of the spirits and refused to work there, leaving his wife to take care of the house and their three children alone. The administrator didn't believe in ghosts, but his wife did, yet she wasn't afraid of them. She thought the spirits were friendly and believed they were looking after her.

True story? Perhaps not, but it could have been. It's against this background that Melanie Kershaw has set her first novel Water Music. The story is about a 23-year-old British woman, Fanny, who moves to Hong Kong with her husband. A few years later she runs away to the United States with another man, leaving her children behind. When we meet her at the beginning of the novel she's 52 and returning to Hong Kong to confront her past and the now-adult children.

Although the author lives in the US now, Kershaw still considers Hong Kong home. Her family moved here in 1960 when she was seven years old. Her father was a textile-machinery salesman, who traveled the Far East, and like the characters in her novel she lived in a gorgeous house with wide verandas on Castle Peak Road in the New Territories.

Kershaw uses her personal knowledge to draw sharp contrasts between Hong Kong in the 60s and today. The middle-aged Fanny wanders around the city drinking in the changes: the gleaming skyline, the urbanization of the New Territories, the new Cultural Center complex and the airport construction work on Tsing Yi island, which is still unfinished at the time of the novel: "One end of Tsing Yi, the high, round hump of a barely inhabited island that lay directly opposite, had a whole quarter chopped off.

Kershaw uses her personal knowledge to draw sharp contrasts between Hong Kong in the 60s and today. The middle-aged Fanny wanders around the city drinking in the changes: the gleaming skyline, the urbanization of the New Territories, the new Cultural Center complex and the airport construction work on Tsing Yi island, which is still unfinished at the time of the novel: "One end of Tsing Yi, the high, round hump of a barely inhabited island that lay directly opposite, had a whole quarter chopped off.

Although the author lives in the US now, Kershaw still considers Hong Kong home. Her family moved here in 1960 when she was seven years old. Her father was a textile-machinery salesman, who traveled the Far East, and like the characters in her novel she lived in a gorgeous house with wide verandas on Castle Peak Road in the New Territories.

Kershaw uses her personal knowledge to draw sharp contrasts between Hong Kong in the 60s and today. The middle-aged Fanny wanders around the city drinking in the changes: the gleaming skyline, the urbanization of the New Territories, the new Cultural Center complex and the airport construction work on Tsing Yi island, which is still unfinished at the time of the novel: "One end of Tsing Yi, the high, round hump of a barely inhabited island that lay directly opposite, had a whole quarter chopped off.

Just like that. Gone. A wound of reddish soil marked the place where it had been amputated: a sheer cliff of bleeding sand A fury welled up in her. All was not right in a world where this could be possible."

The real story of Water Music concerns Fanny's relationship with her children, in particular her first daughter Caroline, who is still angry with her for leaving them. Mother and daughter are scheduled to meet for the first time in 20 years and old wounds are to be re-opened

With a sure touch Kershaw builds suspense throughout the novel. We are told at the beginning that Fanny has some terrible secret in her past, but we're kept guessing as to what that might be.

Coming from a small independent press, this probably isn't a book that's going to make a big splash internationally, but Kershaw writes confidently and her prose never loses pace or interest. She's already working on another novel partly set in the region, and is a welcome addition to the growing number of authors choosing Hong Kong as a backdrop for fiction.

 

Books

home.gif (1906 bytes)
Copyright 2010 Avocet Press Inc.  All the text and images published on the Avocet Press web site are for personal use only and are not for use in the public domain. You may not re-use any text  or image in any other publication or for any commercial use. Reproduction, redistribution, or exploitation is strictly prohibited.