marcel barang

Laying it on a bit thick

In English, Reading matters on 24/07/2011 at 5:51 pm


The morning sun is too hot to sit sipping coffee – a wonderful title for a collection of (usually long) stories full of wonders, starting with a most unusual ‘writer’s note’ entitled ‘The sun is out this morning’ which is a short story in itself: a series of apparently disconnected scenes or reflections working as a coda to the whole book as if the author weren’t around.

Jadet Kamjorndet is a 36-year-old native of the South (Surat Thani) whose real name is Satha-phorn Jorndit: a draughtsman, composer, singer and guitarist who crafted an ‘indie book’ for one of his first short stories and translates his own prose into English to boot! This is his first collection (lousy cover, Nai Siriworn!).
To say the least, Jadet doesn’t lack in imagination: his is a layered world where real world, dream world and … underworld overlap to surfeit. ‘The overlapping dimensions of a hidden world’ is the title of one of his stories (featuring a ‘casual’ love story between a detective ‘superman’ and the mistress of an underworld grandee) as well as the key to his universe and writing technique.
The overlay makes for mostly fun, if at times mystifying, reading and for mostly fanciful plots. At its best, his way of handling his usually out-of-step, wistful characters is reminiscent of Murakami, but with a fondness for satire sometimes extending to the grotesque – for instance, ‘The commander in chief is dead’, which draws a parallel between the fighters of yesterday and today’s youth noxious absorption in computer battle games, or ‘Going for breakfast to Pluto’ (67 pages), a hodge-podge of clichés and parodies in a pseudo sci-fi context.
Add to this an imagery which tends to be on the primitive side: in a couple of lovers, the man is invariably a bird, the woman a fish; butterflies start their lives as larvae. And there is a strange obsession with tattoos, running through most of the book. A tattoo is ‘a door to a new life’, a theme developed at length in the lead story (45 pages), entitled ‘God’s damaged goods’, which features a double murder and the still-born twin of a tattoo artist up to much mischief.
The title story (54 pages), set on a background of urban terrorism and its suppression, has the haunted narrator ready to have one of his hands cut off if only he can find the woman he has let go. Guess what happens.
Such stories are technically sophisticated, they are page turners, all the more so as the prose is fluid, with few ‘big words’, but I prefer the more classic and plausible ‘As if it started with the rain’ (41 pages): the blossoming of a friendship between two schoolboys, Thong the Thai and Hatoo the non-Thai non-Burmese punch-bag, that turns tragic when Hatoo’s people, fighting for the liberation of their tribal land, invade the school, hold everyone hostage and threaten to kill a child every time Thong’s older brother, the star of the Thai football team, scores during the match being televised right then. Blood, guns and fear: suspense guaranteed. And again: guess what happens.


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