marcel barang

Reading the fine print – 2

In English, Reading matters on 19/08/2012 at 3:25 pm

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When he handed me the new printout, Parbpim boss Khun Jok told me: ‘You definitely won’t like this novel,’ an assertion which made his generosity truly kingly.

Khun Jok was right. I did not like this novel one bit. If I’ve kept crying, it wasn’t over the print size but over the waste of paper, ink and printing savoir-faire.

This is how the novel starts:

When Krerk was confronted [sic – เผชิญ] with the sentence ‘Catch a man and put him in jail’, it resounded in his cranium. Of course, it created a weird picture beyond grasp for a life as devoid of thrills as his. This flash of thought at first had only the effect to make him frown for five seconds and then shrug and dismiss it from his brain, but actually, it wasn’t like that. Several days later…

Krerk is a motherless near genius who has dropped out just before the end of his medicine studies he made last twelve years, twice the usual span. Ten months later, his father dies, leaving him a fortune in real estate, including one derelict building in the middle of nowhere he undertakes to rebuild and provide with … a jail. One of his tenants in another building is a dwarf. He drugs him and puts him in jail. Why? Oh, just to humour that sentence resounding in his brain. He means no harm to the dwarf and will treat him lavishly well: he only wants to control a human life, find the true meaning of human freedom, equality, fraternity and all that jazz. ‘Since childhood he had always decided important things in life with a logic it was hard for anyone else to understand.’ Me neither.

Krerk has two close childhood friends, a man, Wichit, an architect who has just lost his wife to cancer, and a woman, Nut, a concept artist. Soon enough, he invites them over to introduce them to the dwarf in the cage. Do they wonder? No. Do they protest? No. In the name of friendship, they turn complicit and help him out. Wouldn’t you?

This is the kind of fiction that demands more than suspension of disbelief, even if you skim through its 440 pages (150,000 words at a rough guess) out of sheer curiosity to see how the charade ends.

The novel’s sluggish pace over the qualms and feelings of the few characters involved would be bearable, even enjoyable, if the style was outstanding, which isn’t the case. In interviews I read on the net, the author claims he has been influenced by DH Lawrence – if only! – and that he has made good use of his own emotions as detailed at length in his diary ‘to explore the dark side of man’: this I believe and I’m not buying.

I failed to identify with any of the characters, not even the dwarf who, after a period of incomprehension, despair and recrimination and a belated and failed attempt at a forceful getaway that leaves him delirious, becomes mentally retarded and will live happy and free forever in the open jail. Meanwhile, his guardian has got bored with the whole setup and taken himself for several months and seventy pages of tourism in Australia and, what do you know, is molested in a louche bar by … another dwarf, before being involved in a car crash in the Tasmanian desert and returning a month later to his building, as wise and normal as when he started – end of story.

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