This ISN'T the Susan Johnson who writes erotic romance.
In her American fiction debut, Australian writer Johnson the author of four novels and a memoir offers a racy, intelligent tale of friendship and ambition. Rachel Gallagher and Anne-Louise Buchan, both aspiring artists who knew each other in high school, meet again while working for a fashion magazine in Sydney. Though they couldn't be more different Rachel is careful and proper, Anne-Louise carefree and irreverent they become close friends, going off to London together and staying in touch even when their lives diverge. While Anne-Louise is the artier (and less stable) of the two, Rachel turns out to be the artist, Anne-Louise becoming an administrator for a Hong Kong arts center and joining the enclave's "ghost," or non-Asian, community. Also in Hong Kong is Martin Bannister, a handsome and meticulously groomed futures trader, one of Hong Kong's "golden bachelors." Martin's past his runaway father, his spoiled and willful mother, his years in New Zealand have left him a cache of suppressed anger, which he unleashes in sadistic encounters in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Macao. In time, he crosses paths with Anne-Louise and then with Rachel, testing their friendship and their characters. Johnson narrates all this in forceful prose, swiftly summarizing her characters' lives. The tantalizingly short chapters shift point of view from Rachel to Anne-Louise to Martin. Rachel, who tells her story in the first person, becomes the most developed and complex of the three. Though Johnson veers dangerously close to melodrama (her good-looking men are always "dashing"), her crafty storytelling not to mention her unblinking descriptions of sadism keep the reader turning the pages of this lively novel.
As the British colony of Hong Kong nervously prepares for its reunification with China, three expatriates (two Australians and one New Zealander) meet with devastating consequences. To the Chinese, all Westerners are "ghosts," and these young spirits drift through Hong Kong's crowded streets, haunted by their past and hungry for something more (love, sex, fame). Self-conscious and inhibited, Rachel Gallagher envies her friend Anne-Louise's exuberance and "talent for life," but Rachel has a successful career as a painter which pains Anne-Louise, whose own artistic ambitions have been thwarted by her psychotic breakdown. When both women fall in love with Martin Bannister, a handsome and troubled futures broker, tragedy is inevitable.