Hannelore Arbyn tells Arthur Tam about her new queer novel that creates a sexy and shaky lesbian dating scene in Hong Kong
The glorious sights, sounds and smells in Hong Kong are enough of a sensory overload for newcomers to the city – and, as we’ve seen many times, provide plenty of fodder for a fictional novel. But add a tumultuous dating drama between two queer women into the mix and the result is an emotional train wreck in protagonist Lee Harlem Robinson (also lesbian author Hannelore Arbyn’s pen name). Her life is anything but simple as she falls in and out of a crippling relationship with her long-time infatuation, Stella. Stella reveals to Lee halfway through lovemaking that she’s been cheating on her with a new intern less than half her age. Naked and alone, Lee is left to pick up the shattered consciousness of her life, while we’re left wondering if she can ever let go of Stella.
This story is not too unfamiliar, which is exactly what Arbyn wanted to achieve in her debut novel, Come and Go − to make lesbian and gay characters in her story accessible and relatable to the mainstream. “I didn’t want to write just another coming-out story or a cliché lesbian romance. I wanted the story to be about relationships,” she says. “It was important though to have a lesbian lead character. If we don’t write about it, who will?” What’s also unique about Arbyn’s story is her descriptive use of real Hong Kong establishments, landmarks and roads when creating a scene. Lesbian or not, it’s a light yet entertaining read for any Hongkonger.
Arbyn herself, unlike her character Lee, isn’t still looking for love. But she is lesbian and can relate to the difficulties facing queer and single ladies in the city. “When I got to Hong Kong, I was just so happy that I’m married because it would almost be impossible to meet anyone here,” she says. “There isn’t much of a scene. Where do we go?” In response, Arbyn dove into a fantasy world by creating a blog called Trying to Throw my Arms Around the World, where the character Lee Harlem Robinson first emerged. Lee grew and developed as a character in the digital world until Arbyn wanted to focus her craft into a novel. “I wanted to take the story more seriously and give it a clear beginning, middle and end,” she says.
Hong Kong doesn’t have very many openly lesbian authors that are willing to come out with a fictional story about a lesbian character, so Arbyn is stepping into unclear waters, while at the same time taking an inspirational step for other lesbian authors in the city. “I don’t know if I’m necessarily setting out to make an impact, but I would like someone who is closeted to know that they’re not alone.”
Photo credit: Michal Garcia
Come and Go will be released on February 13, priced at $100. www.comeandgothenovel.com