Hooray! Last night I went to Central Pinklao and found yet another of the precious SEA Write preselection books, so that, after visiting seven bookshops only, I’ve got six of the seven novels, and am still short of Thalei Namnom. Either hordes of readers have depleted stocks or something is damn wrong with the book distribution system in this country. Only one of the seven bookshops I visited had a separate, though incomplete, pile of the SEA Write hopefuls – Rarn Nai In at Tha Phra Jan. Another had Pratheit Tai in its Travel section…
Ah, Pratheit Tai. It’s a short book, hardly over a hundred pages lean. So the waste of time reading it didn’t amount to much. Having read it, I wish I knew what the book is about, though.
In the prologue, there is this man, an architect, who is sent an unpublished novel that has been ‘dozens of years in the writing’ by a travel acquaintance in the South. So far so corny. Forget the architect. Let’s focus on the stranger, then: ‘He was still young in his early thirties [sic], thin and wan, about 170 centimetres tall. His pale face wore glasses as if it had never been exposed to the sun…’ How can one write like this, even as an architect? Anyway, the said novel is called ‘The man in pursuit of Manohra’. That’s to cash in, I guess, on the Thai folk tale of Manohra, the bird princess, and Phra Suthon. Of course, the lean wan guy with glasses now writing is named Suthon. He introduces himself thus: ‘I was 39 at the end of 2009. On the morning of New Year’s Day 2010, I opened my eyes to the world…’ (The novel came out in March 2009.) Suthon, bearing the misery of the world with each step, is currently part of a Peripatetic ecological-cum-mystical research group shuffling from disaster site to disaster site in the deep South under the leadership of a Principal or professor (Arjarn Yai) whose peremptory pronouncements on the state of the land and its administration go unchallenged, if not by obscure rivals from another NGO tribe – to cash in, I guess, on environmental angst. Of course, there is some terroristic noise in the background, bullets, gore, fires, the works, all incidental, all adding to the confusion. Through this, putting wildly shuffled pieces back together, one gathers that Suthon is searching for Manohra, a classical Thai dancer he was once married to, after she married his best friend and, she says, had him kill himself. Manohra is obviously anaemic, if not unbalanced, takes drugs and threatens not to, and loves Suthon so passionately she leaves him lest he should leave her first. As flashbacks pile up, Suthon finds Manohra, Suthon loses Manohra, Suthon finds… Perhaps thanks to the mystic posturing all along, by the 73rd chapter, the story for some reason comes to an end with ‘These days, I’m much more satisfied, not disappointed, not resentful, not tormented with restlessness. I’ve stopped struggling to find what’s disappeared from life … I’ve been searching for Manohra for 7 years, 7 months and 7 days. And then we parted.’ Capice? Me neither.
I was at Central Pinklao with my daughter to celebrate her Bachelor of Law-hood with a dinner at our favourite Japanese restaurant. I had salmon. She had sushi, and then treated herself to a strawberry icecream. She spooned it up with relish. Back home, after plodding through the last pages of Pratheit Tai, I treated myself to twenty pages of Philip Roth’s Indignation I had just bought as well. I lapped them up with relief.
But here come Chart and Soi, with bananas, lemons, custard apples and a couple of books, passing by on their way back to their Ko-rart castle.