Diamond Hill is a fascinating novel about a place disappearing and a city changing, set in Hong Kong in the late 1980s. Diamond Hill is a run down shanty town with a Buddhist nunnery, drug addiction, and a faded memory of being a place for making films. When a man, nicknamed Buddha and a recovering heroin addict, takes refuge in the nunnery when he returns to his home of Hong Kong from Bangkok, he meets a strange selection of people, like the severe Iron Nun, Quartz who has forgotten her past, and Boss, a teenage gang leader who dreams of her escape. All the while, Diamond Hill is under threat from the various people and power across it, and looming redevelopment.
Kit Fan really draws you into the world of the novel, Hong Kong with looming knowledge of the handover from Britain to China coming in 1997, and into the issues of colonialism, displacement, and self that run through the characters’ lives.The characters in general are heavily tied to language and place—Cantonese and English, Hong Kong and England and Thailand, Diamond Hill and elsewhere—and this gives a sense of some of the kinds of tension at play. Power is crucial: who has it and who doesn’t, but also how it can be a presence in different ways. Buddha, as a protagonist drawn into others’ lives to avoid thinking about his own, is an interesting viewpoint into the narrative, suggesting how hard it is to ignore both the past and the future.
Both a look at distinctive characters dealing with their past and what they might do next, and a wider commentary on Hong Kong at this particular moment, Diamond Hill is an eye-opening novel that I found gripping and atmospheric. I enjoyed the chance to find out more about Hong Kong’s recent history too.