Beneath the canvas awning which shaded the deck aft of the second-class cabins and lounge, Kenneth Clouston sheltered from the sun's burning rays. Reclining in a cane chair he looked out over the discoloured water with no great enthusiasm. His white shirt, open at the neck, clung wetly to his back and more so to his armpits. His white duck trousers remained a little less intimate to his skin, thanks to his woollen underwear, the wearing of which was virtually regulation in Malaya. The jacket of the tropical day-suit hung from the back of his chair, somewhat out of shape, the pockets sagging from the weight of their contents. Desultorily fanning himself with his solar topee, Kenneth turned to a companion reclining at his right.I have a certain fascination with Malaya, where my father was born, and this is a novel by a New Zealand writer featuring a chap managing a rubber plantation there in the 1920s, who marries in 1927 in a whirlwind romance; as it happens my grandfather also managed a rubber plantation there in the 1920s and married my grandmother in 1927 after a whirlwind romance, though there are some big differences (Barton's protagonists are English, in their early to mid twenties, and meet in London, my grandfather was Irish and my grandmother American, he was 47 and she was 28, and they met in Penang).
It's a well-meaning novel in which Kenneth (our hero) gets sucked into the local Rajah's dubious money-raising schemes, while his wife (who is more central to the narrative) gets stuck into an archaeological dig led by a visiting Englishman, with results that you can see coming fifteen chapters away. Not terribly deep, but the attention to period detail is unimpeachable, and there's a wee bit of social commentary in there (though little comfort for the Chinese). Certainly whetted my appetite to go there myself some day. You can get it here.