Review: “Noble House” by James Clavell (audiobook edition)

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It’s 1963 and there is a new Tai-Pan at the head of Struan’s trading company. From the very beginning it is clear that big change is coming. The Noble House is in deep financial trouble and is looking antequainted – its fixation with its own past is very much in evidence. Business is brutal, with rivals old and new – they are out to destroy the Noble House, and look more than capable.

There is a real sense of tension in the air – who will get the upper hand in the games of ego, suspicion, business, power, sex?

Clavell’s earlier book Tai-Pan forms the history that this book is built upon, but it is utterly dwarfed by this massive, amazing story.  Although Tai-Pan is good, in comparison with Noble House it becomes a nice little story about smugglers and their minor feuds.  If you are serious about getting the most out of Noble House then it is essential background material.

To put the book’s timing into some kind of context – it is set over the course of a week in August 1963 – this is the year that Kim Philby (a powerful British spy) defects to Russia, Chairman Mao is in power in China, the Vietnam war is on and JFK is assassinated.  Such specific timing means that the story has not aged.

Noble House is truly epic and in the beginning it builds layer upon layer of plot.  This huge book – my paperback copy stretches to over 1400 pages, 2 inches thick – is an incredible achievement in storytelling.  Over the last five years I have tried to read the book twice, each time getting about 300 pages in before I have had to stop due to lack of time.  This time I have listened to the story as an audiobook, and at 50+ hours it is a big commitment.

This version of the audiobook is a new recording from 2015 – before then there was a version from about 20 years ago which is basically unavailable.  The narrator is truly excellent, an upper class English accent when telling the story, able to imbue each individual character with a different voice – although he stuggles slightly when tackling a number of Scottish accents.  Still, it is a consistantly impressive job, which is a blessing given that you are spending so much time with his voice in your head…

It is hard to express how much I have enjoyed reading this book.  This is powerhouse storytelling by a master, without a wasted sentence, and at the end you have a desire for it to keep going.  If what you are looking for is an all-encompassing story that you can live in, then look no further.



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