First thing Saturday, I went to buy the missing four novels of the SEA Write shortlist and found out I already had one of the four and thus owe an apology to its writer, Sakorn Poolsuk, who kindly sent it to me by mail last December along with his two previous novels. I meant to report on those two and had gone thirty pages into ‘Saipin’s scar’ when after-flood chores derailed that project. Partie remise.
The Nai-in bookshop chain is a darling to book lovers but their newly transferred from fifth to ground floor and expanded outlet at Central Pinklao is a shambles: it took three people ten minutes to find two of the three titles I was after – what with no SEA Write shortlisted books corner, former SEA Write winners lined up in the Kids Lit section, and so on.
Most of the rest of the weekend I wasted going through the slimmest two entrants, one a bit of a bore, the other a bit of a fraud.
Let’s start with the bore: Nai Roop Ngao (In the shadow) by Ngao Jan, less than 120 pages of text. Judging from the teeny picture provided with the bio (none on the net) in the last pages, chubby Ms Moon Shadow could be anything between fifteen and fifty years old. Her listed works cover the last seven years: two collections of short stories and no fewer than five novels. In the shadow is her fifth, crowned by last year’s Nai-in Award. You don’t say!
Unless you want to get intimate with all manner of cows, read the first five or six pages to know what the story is about and jump to page 65 when the action begins to gel as you’ll have expected all along.
What the story is about is implied at the turn of the first page: as villagers are wont to rumour, if father and son live alone and live one for the other, it isn’t that the mother drowned by accident but that she committed suicide because she was pregnant from her lover. The father is a man of few words who raises and sells cows he trusts better than he does women. When on page 8 ‘a young girl as small as’ the son makes a fleeting appearance, you know you’re headed for a tragic love triangle; too bad you have to wait for the second half of the book for a series of laughs at the absurd dialogue (when the scruffy little girl returns as a nurse giving the son a sergeant-major’s berating out of the blue) and will find out what’s really been going on only three pages from the end. Perhaps I read too fast, but the timeframe is weird and I’ve a strong suspicion that, on top of everything else, the father in the story is a paedophile. Check that for yourselves. Sure, the writing style is fluid with occasional curlicues, but how can a bovine soap like this be listed amongst the best Thai literature has had to offer in the past three years?