The Fan Tan Players by Julian Lees

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The Fan Tan Players by Julian Lees

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A novel which encompasses Macao, Russia, Scotland and if all that were not enough - Hong Kong. In essence, A Scotsman falls for a feisty Russian girl and thereafter both cover large areas of the globe in various guises and for various reasons.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 384 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Sandstone Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1905207497

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The story opens with a vividly described cyclone in 1920s Macao. I found Lees' writing was such in the opening chapter that it felt almost apocalyptic. The loss of life, the damage to property and ... sounds of the surf regurgitating gurgling carcasses of belly-bulging cows. I couldn't help but think of the real-life tragedy unfolding in Pakistan. I felt a bit queasy when I was reading this, to tell you the truth.

And in amongst all this death and carnage, the two central characters of the novel, Nadia and Iain meet and fall in love. Lees gives the reader plenty of descriptive text. Too much, I felt, at times. He wants to share these exotic locations with us. And so he gives the low-down on the local market scene, the various foods, the domestic arrangements etc. Macao has plenty of poverty - we're told about the seedy brothels and run-down houses. Nadia is constantly covering her nostrils with a dainty handkerchief to cope with the smell of the raw sewage. But there are also glimpses of beauty too.

As Nadia is Russian, we discover how her family - but not all family members - come to be living in Macao. They seem to make a decent enough living and on the whole don't have too many complaints. But bouts of homesickness rear their ugly heads. And Lees explains the family background in detail. Stalin is mentioned once or twice to give a sense of the era and also of rapidly changing times. Lees certainly knows his stuff but I did feel at times that he was cramming in all this knowledge, regardless. Too many lengthy paragraphs about history slowed down the pace of the story and rather than add to it, in my opinion, detracted. I do appreciate that in parts this book is an adventure story but the historical sections were too much for a novel.

I felt that Lees couldn't tear himself away from the location of Macao. So he tells us about the drug problem, how the Chinese 'dispose' of unwanted baby girls. I found that I couldn't really settle down and enjoy the fictional story after being presented with horrendous facts. Also, the pidgin English from some of the Chinese characters didn't quite work for me. And Iain's Scottish-ness was far too twee, I'm afraid. He did not come over as a credible character. And I felt that the couple's brief stop in Scotland was a platform for yet more facts from Lees.

Having said all that, the writing style is engaging and easy to read. And there's a bit of humour here and there. I found this quite an earnest book. Lees seems extremely eager to please but it all came across as a bit of a hotchpotch for me. I started out really enjoying the story but my interest did dip a little about half-way through - yes, even with all that globe-trotting. Some of Nadia's dialogue is extremely old-fashioned and a bit sugary and it irked me a little. Overall, rather average.

I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals you might also enjoy One Morning Like A Bird by Andrew Miller.

Buy The Fan Tan Players by Julian Lees at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fan Tan Players by Julian Lees at

Buy The Fan Tan Players by Julian Lees at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fan Tan Players by Julian Lees at


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