marcel barang

Reading notes 1/4

In English, Reading matters on 04/10/2018 at 5:03 pm

It’s the silly season again: the SEA Write Award short list is out, this year for novels. Eight of them.

I’ll read and review seven, in the order I get them.

The eighth? Having been swindled lately of 150,000 baht, I can’t afford any longer the 1000 baht demanded of collectors for one copy of the hard-cover, 400-run, signed edition of the autobiographical first novel of 61-year-old versatile video artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook (อารยา ราษฎร์จำเริญสุข – pronounced rat.jam.reun.suk). That novel is entitled in Thai “Born to say goodbye” (ผุดเกิดมาลาร่ำ – phut keut ma la ram) but the author, in her wisdom, prefers, I’m told, to call it “A flowery cry of birth”. Sure, why not.


Before long, we’ll all be deadsoon dead.jpg

[Ik Mai Nan Rao Ja Sun Hai – Omkaew Kalayanapong]

[อีกไม่นานเราจะสูญหาย โดย อ้อมแก้ว กัลป์ยาณพงศ์]


How true. If you like macabre farce, this is the book for you.

What happens in it is this.

Twenty years ago, when the female narrator was 10, her next-door neighbour of about the same age, fed up with being whipped and bullied by his mother, killed her, cooked her, and had his father and the girl eat some, to buy their silence.

Now our narrator manages an art gallery. The barbecuing killer resurfaces penniless and convinces her to help him write a cook book about the murder. With her PR savvy, it should sell well. It does – a million copies –, and both authors are instant hits with the media and the net.

Loaded but unhappy, the young woman can’t stand living alone in her frigging Bangkok condo and moves back to the warmth of her family home, where her younger brother is their demented mother’s punch-bag. One day, unable to stand it anymore, the young man takes a knife and … slits his own throat.

From then on, the mother, heavily drugged, behaves herself, sort of. One day, the daughter takes her on a drive to Racha Buri. On the way, they decide to do some boating on a secluded lake, and of course, the daughter drowns her mother.

It could go on in this fashion, but it doesn’t. We are on page 92 of a very skinny book (156 printed pages, some 40 000 words perhaps) and all of a sudden we jump to September 2023 when a black hole opens up in the sky above Bangkok and a few other Thai towns.

That’s when I stopped reading.

The writing style is serviceable but lacks any poetic glimpse as might be expected from the surviving daughter of the most famous poet cum calligrapher of his time, Angkarn Kalayanapong, who died in 2012. Significantly perhaps, fathers are as good as absent in this youthful indiscretion.

Jomthian, 31.08.18


Vanish Island

vanish[Koh Long Hon – Kriksit Palamart]

[เกาะล่องหน โดย เกริกศิษฏ์ พละมาตร์]


This is written by the man who won the 2016 SEA Write Award for poetry under the pen name Phalang Phiangphirun. He now uses his real name, Kriksit Palamart. First off, this prized poet can handle prose finely. The problem is with the fine prose, which endeavours through simulation and archetype to achieve hyper-reality and thus confuse the reader in a fashionable way.

At first, the conceit sounds interesting. First sentence (Pardon its logic.): “The rumour is that because a young girl phom klaeh [with head shaven but for two tufts of hair left and right] dropped her teddy bear somewhere in the sea, when the teddy bear came into contact with the water, a whole island appeared in the middle of the ocean and all the people thus came back to life.

Follows a long line of nameless set characters, female journalist, poet, novelist, short-story writer, artist (painter), child, roti eater, etc., who will take turns gabbing in between glimpses of history going back centuries during which Vanish Island is allegedly recorded as emerging or vanishing.

To further whet the appetite, there is Chapter 2:

A turtle is laboriously crawling up the beach. The poet has been standing alone in the coconut plantation watching it for a long time. Both front flippers, which are as flat as paddles, flap back and forth on the sand. On the carapace are incrusted a great number of knobby grey barnacles which make it look like a monster. Its body is smeared with sand. Under the rugged wrinkles of the eyes water keeps running down. A great number of people are calling on one another to come and watch the turtle lay eggs. They claim her belly about to deliver hurts so much she is crying. The turtle slowly pushes forward its one-tonne bodyweight. An unthinking grownup jumps onto its back and then shouts at his friends to take pictures, sharing in the clamorous jumping and straddling with the numerous men that follow suit. The turtle still shuffles forward, ever so slowly. One man on its back takes a tumble and is scraped raw by the barnacles drawing wide gashes. Another is also wounded by the barnacles so that soon blood stains the turtle’s shell. While it keeps crawling up, it looks as though it might change its mind, turning its head backwards as if to crawl back down to the sea. The people who are waiting aren’t happy because they want to see it lay eggs, want to see it dig a big pit in the sand, stretch its nether regions to lay its eggs at the bottom of it, something like a hundred eggs judging from its own size. They want to see the eggs, white and round more or less like ping-pong balls coated in clear elastic mucus, and wait to cheer the appearance of an egg eventually. When the turtle has no egg to show, they become frantic. Many of them help one another push it back up the beach, but the turtle is very big. They all try to push until they feel drained and give up. It slowly, awkwardly crawls back into the sea, disappears in the waves that keep swashing noisily. The poet stands head down. His tears drop onto the sand.

That turtle has dived and is gone, and has laid all its eggs into the sea.

Unfortunately, this, in my view, is the best this book has to offer. Soon the novelty of the approach wears off: the short bouts of dialogue lack depth and are repetitive, the characters are stilted, there’s hardly any action, even though the last chapters mature from bombs to arson into some sort of civil war, and if that vanishing island is a symbol of something, I still have to figure out what. For some reason, the novel has a dozen and a half photographs of presumably sea gypsies down South of no obvious relevance to the text; every third chapter ends on the repetition of a single word, up to 477 times on pages 275-276, a great gimmick, that; and the icing on the cake: the systematic maiming in transliteration of nearly all foreign names.

Jomthian – 14.09.18

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