x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The Harbour almost entirely bereft of dramatic tension

Francesca Brill's debut novel features characters whose destiny is set in stone from the outset.

The Harbour by Francenca Brill
The Harbour by Francenca Brill

Francesca Brill’s debut novel might more accurately be titled When Harry met Stevie. Beginning in June 1940 and set in Hong Kong, The Harbour traces an epic and scandalous love affair between Major Harry Field, a stiff upper-lipped servant of the British Empire, and Stevie Steiber, a free-spirited American journalist who’s desperate to write the story that will define her career.

Brill is a screenwriter first and novelist second, and that much is evident in her pacing of this three-act fiction. It opens with the dogs of war barking in far-off Europe, before settling into an unsettling and lengthy passage concerned with the brutal Japanese invasion and occupation of the former British colony and concludes soon after the US unleashes its atomic bombs to end the Second World War.

Can true love prosper in such extraordinary circumstances? Will Stevie and Harry survive the war?

Oddly, despite some wonderfully engaging descriptive passages and a near-perfect ear for period tone, The Harbour arrives almost completely bereft of dramatic tension. Instinctively, the reader knows Harry and Stevie’s destiny long before fate deals its predictable hand.