1 April 2024 Susannah

The House of Doors

The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng

I enjoy encountering famous authors as characters in novels. In a new novel (published in 2023) called The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng, writer W. Somerset Maugham is a major character. Maugham was a great traveller and the novel is set mostly in Penang in the early 20th century. Maugham is staying with an old friend in Malaya and grows interested in the story of a woman who murdered her lover, which he turns into The Letter, published in the collection The Casuarina Tree, a book that made Maugham persona non grata in Malaya as he was felt to have painted a highly unflattering picture of the British ex-pats living there.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Maugham in this novel and found it accurate (according to the biographies I’ve read) and also penetrating. Maugham was an art collector and once in Tahiti purchased a door, on the glass panes of which Paul Gauguin had painted Tahitian scenes (he paid $40 for the door) – that story is told in the novel, but doors make up the title and theme of the book.

I found that aspect a little over-forced, but I did really enjoy the story of the married couple with whom Maugham stays and the story of the trial for murder (based on an actual case which caused a great furore in Penang).

This novel was long-listed for the Booker Prize. It is a many-layered book that examines, love, marriage, race and colonialism, scandal and affairs. Maugham was travelling with his ‘secretary’, Gerald Haxton, who was actually his lover, at a time when homosexuality was dangerous. Interracial affairs are greatly frowned on, and a British stiff upper lip is expected of all ex-pats. The House of Doors was beautifully written and I can thoroughly recommend it.

I am planning a Zoom talk on W. Somerset Maugham later in the year for my Gold Class Book Addicts. Watch this space …

Will you be reading this book? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Comment (1)

  1. Sue Baillie

    My husband and I both loved the ‘House of doors”. We also read ‘The garden of evening mists’. We enjoyed them both, and I have ordered ‘The Gift of of rain’. They both deserve all the accolades they’ve received.

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