Book Group: The September Choice, 'The Harmony Silk Factory' by Tash Aw

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The Independent Culture

Just as potential popes may be fingered as papabile early in their career, so some novels - and novelists - quickly strike publishers as "Bookerable". To say that this thought crossed my mind when I first encountered Tash Aw's debut sounds cynical.

It shouldn't. His story, largely set in the physical, emotional and political jungles of Malaya in the 1940s, buzzes and heaves with a tropical profusion of memorable characters and striking scenes. Couched in prose that can do sensual, and suspenseful, and a dozen other moods, the story of legendary Johnny Lim and the many lives that he touches builds into an accomplished first outing.

No: my feeling that The Harmony Silk Factory might slip easily on to the fast track toward prizes comes from its strong blend of narrative complexity and historical heft, as private passions are woven around epic deeds.

Sure enough, Tash Aw reached the Man Booker longlist last month, and next Thursday, we will know if he has made the shortlist cut. Tell us: is this yarn spun from fine enough material to win?

'The Harmony Silk Factory', by Tash Aw, is published by HarperPerennial at £7.99

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