Almost five years ago, I bought a house for myself. I painted. I bought appliances and furniture. I planted a back garden. I have plans to makeover some of the rooms in the future. All of this is to make this house even more of a home for myself. There are few places I feel more comfortable and relaxed, to be honest. I’m so proud of myself for working hard and saving enough money to get this place. So I can understand why the patriarch of the Yi family does not want to leave his home, in spite of the offers from a development company that has bought up the properties around the family home and is in the process of building a high rise apartment complex. In The Nail House, by Gregory Baines, we see the battle for a small plot of land in an unnamed Chinese city from the perspective of Zhen Yi and Lindon, an Australian man who has been hired to negotiate that last land acquisition.
A nail house is the Chinese term for a real estate holdout. The name comes from the way that that these houses stick up like nails that need to be banged down. By the time that the novella opens, things have escalated to the point where Zhen’s father is under siege and the family is starting to crack under the strain. Zhen is relieved to get out, as she is moving in with her fiancé in a few days. The quotes from The Art of War at the beginning of each chapter heighten the imagery. Lindon, who has come to China to get away from his acrimonious divorce and to get a big pay out, is not prepared for what he has been hired to do. Nor is he prepared for the sheer amount of alcohol it takes to do big business in China.
Zhen and Lindon are thrown together through a series of coincidental meetings. Lindon is so out of his depth that Zhen takes a grudging pity on the hapless foreigner, who is drunk to the point of vomiting in the streets far too often. While the two keep bumping into each other, Lindon tries to work out his feelings and Zhen struggles with the path her life is taking. Zhen’s life is following an expected path towards marriage, a better apartment, and stability. Because this is a novella, all of this happens at a breakneck pace. We start with a modern-day siege, drift into sort of a romance, before ending up with an explosive, surprising conclusion.
I think it only took me a couple of hours to read The Nail House. Sadly, this wasn’t quite enough for me. I wanted more of Lindon’s maturation as a person. I definitely wanted more of Zhen’s more complicated journey and the battles over the Yi’s nail house. That said, I found The Nail House very satisfying. I will absolutely recommend this to readers looking for a quick read with plenty of psychological depth.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.