Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023. Based on real events, Booker Prize-shortlisted Tan Twan Eng’s masterful novel of public morality and private truth examines love and betrayal under the shadow of Empire

It is 1921 and at Cassowary House in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Robert Hamlyn is a well-to-do lawyer, his steely wife Lesley a society hostess. Their lives are invigorated when Willie, an old friend of Robert’s, comes to stay.   

Willie Somerset Maugham is one of the greatest writers of his day. But he is beleaguered by an unhappy marriage, ill-health and business interests that have gone badly awry. He is also struggling to write. The more Lesley’s friendship with Willie grows, the more clearly she see him as he is – a man who has no choice but to mask his true self.  

As Willie prepares to face his demons, Lesley confides secrets of her own, including her connection to the case of an Englishwoman charged with murder in the Kuala Lumpur courts – a tragedy drawn from fact, and worthy of fiction.  

The Booker Prize 2023
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Tan Twan Eng

Tan Twan Eng

About the Author

Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang, Malaysia, and worked as an advocate in one of Kuala Lumpur's leading law firms before becoming a full-time writer.
More about Tan Twan Eng

Drawing on the life and writing of Somerset Maugham, The House of Doors is a magisterial and haunting tale of forbidden love and loss in the shadow of revolution and empire. This is historical fiction at its finest

— The Booker Prize 2023 judges

Tan Twan Eng on writing The House of Doors

I begin with the main characters. I work out what is it that they are seeking. I always know the ending, although getting there is another matter entirely. With this novel, I even knew what the concluding sentence would be; every other word and sentence preceding it was directed, like an arrow fired from a bow, towards that final sentence.     

I type on a laptop because it just looks more official to me, more real, more professional – I convince myself that I’m doing actual work and not just messing about. I rewrite countless times, as the final work has to be as near perfect as possible. I try to maintain a consistently long stretch of writing, because it’s so hard to sink back into the trance of writing again if it gets interrupted for too long.

I write at my desk in my study. I try to keep my workspace organised, but inevitably and very quickly the desk would be overrun by stacks of books, papers, and other research materials. There’ll also be a big cup of tea – I drink incessantly when I’m writing.  

Read the full interview here

The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng

Other nominated books by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists
The Gift of Rain