There’s a distant tone to much of the novel, but it proves as deceptive as the fantasies of expatriate life: Lee tells devastating stories at an emotional remove, yet each blow as it falls is deeply felt.
Lee has a gift for the well-observed generalization, but a related tendency to oversummarize ... The book is also vibrant social satire: Inside these dark materials lies the sharpness of a comic novelist, and Lee’s eye for the nuance and clash of culture, class, race and sex is subtle and shrewd.
It’s hard not to wish Margaret’s misfortune to take center stage instead of sharing the limelight with Hilary and Mercy’s struggles, which pale in comparison. And in the interest of not spilling spoilers, let’s just say that the book’s ending might ignite the ire (or bafflement) of more judgmental readers.
Although separated by decades, The Expatriates continues themes Lee first explored in The Piano Teacher, creating a fictional continuum in the changing city of Hong Kong and the people who are forced by circumstance and geography to change with it.
“The Expatriates brims with the irony that privilege sometimes walks hand in hand with personal devastation. If it weren’t for Lee’s powerful, nuanced writing, the novel would easily fall flat as another chick-lit tale or a long chronicle of obnoxious first-world problems.
With meticulous details and nuanced observations, Lee creates an exquisite novel of everyday lives in extraordinary circumstances ... How Lee’s triumvirate reacts, copes, and ventures forth (or not) proves to be a stupendous feat of magnetic, transporting storytelling.