After a little over one hundred pages, I gave up last night on Talei Namnom. It was an arduous read, for very little profit. The language, as we have seen, is top of the shelf. But this isn’t a novel. In those one hundred pages, nothing happens, or so little. We have met Joom and his girlfriend Nipha. He is in his early thirties, sells toilet paper as a corporate white-collar, and alternatively rants against consumerism and globalisation, and dreams about the Lord Buddha’s teachings and lore – and oh yes, he is also looking for fountains. Within pages, Nipha graduates from a demure young lass of times past into a modern girl he kisses and hugs. She sells clothes at the market for a living. They see each other, go for strolls and hold, every three pages or so, spasmodic bouts of conversation, either prosaic or verging on the hermetic. Ironically, the major event in their lives is the purchase by Nipha of a washing machine. By the end of this first part, the couple takes a train for a visit to their native village. We’ll leave them there.
There is nothing I find more off-putting in a novel, no matter how well written, than solid pages of repetitive political ranting, even when I happen to mostly agree with it as a thinking person, or solid pages of religious preaching or divagations. Here we have both, and no action, and both Nipha and Joom are as three-dimensional as pancakes.
So where are we, SEA Write-wards? Of the seven preselected novels, the outstanding one, in my view, is The Quietest School in the World by Fa Poonvoralak, with Lap Lae – Kaeng Khoi by Uthis Haemamool and Butterfly Dream by Uea Anchalee as distant outsiders. The final selection should be announced in the next ten days or so.