Book Review: ‘The House of Doors’ by Tan Twan Eng

A Tale of Betrayal, Secrets, and the Power to Shape One's Destiny


Book Title: The House of Doors
Author: Tan Twan Eng
Publisher: Canongate Books
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 978-1838858292
Date Published: May 18, 2023
Price: INR 1,749

The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng Book Cover

Book Review

Tan Twan Eng’s third novel, “The House of Doors,” presents a captivating blend of fact and fiction, weaving a tale of multiple betrayals that resonates deeply. The story takes its readers on a journey that spans generations, where the lines between real-life figures and imaginative characters blur.

The story revolves around Lesley Hamlyn, a Malaysian woman who exiles herself from her Malaysian birthplace in 1947. The novel explores the life of W. Somerset Maugham, who misuses his trust during his time in Penang. The story begins with flashbacks to 1921, when Maugham, Willie, visits Lesley’s home in Penang. Despite societal disapproval, Lesley’s fluency in her native languages and her Chinese partner, Peter Ong, help bridge cultural gaps. As Maugham gains Lesley’s trust, a complex relationship unravels, and Maugham’s personal life reveals its betrayals.

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The most dramatic betrayal unfolds in the form of Lesley’s best friend, the real-life Ethel Proudlock, who stands accused of murder. The scandal surrounding Ethel’s life takes center stage in the narrative and becomes one of Maugham’s short stories, echoing with unresolved tension. This real-life event is introduced to readers with a sense of intrigue and mystery, adding depth to the plot.

The House of Doors” by Tan Twan Eng is a captivating novel that explores grand themes while remaining deeply personal. The story follows Lesley Hamlyn, who transforms, gaining awareness of her agency and the power to shape her narrative. Eng’s writing transports readers to Malaysia’s lush landscapes, tantalizing food, and complex society, capturing the essence of the environment through vivid sensory experiences. The novel uses the House of Doors metaphor, symbolizing preserved history and uncertain futures, to invite contemplation about what is retained and lost, adding depth and meaning to the narrative.

The House of Doors” is a superbly written and psychologically rich novel with a profound impact. Eng’s exploration of secrets, storytelling, and the power to shape one’s destiny lingers in the reader’s mind. It’s a compelling and beautifully crafted narrative that invites us to reflect on the intricacies of human relationships, the weight of betrayals, and the enduring quest for self-determination. The novel promises to be savored and revisited, leaving readers eager to explore Tan Twan Eng’s earlier works.

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