The poet Kit Fan plunges us face-first into the pungently sordid world of Diamond Hill in his debut novel. Trembling under the flight path to Kai Tak airport, its slum dwellings made from the film sets once used for Bruce Lee movies, it’s a cruel, filthy, chaotically exhilarating home to impoverished masses. Everyone’s fate hangs in the balance as Hong Kong moves “from one regime we are used to loathing, to another one we are loath to get used to” — but only a savvy few realise how to profit from it. Fan is an exuberant chronicler of a lost time and place, delightedly preserving Cantonese slang and profanities (“dead smelly hen-whore” being a choice insult). And given the seismic upheavals there, it’s a timely consideration of Hong Kong’s recent past.
Though Diamond Hill is populated by drug addicts and lost souls, it is not a depressing novel. The language veers from the sacred to the profane, and it is a dizzyingly kinetic and occasionally humorous read, with a zippy plot that adroitly balances both the satirical and schmaltzy undertones. Deep questions about colonialism, displacement and the identity-formation of Hong Kong in flux are posed with a light, ironic touch. Fan’s background as an award-winning poet comes through in acute observations such as: “Don’t you think that’s what memory is like? A series of broken images connected by unfulfilled desires.” His fresh and often lyrical language evokes a fantastically noirish sense of place