Twenty Great Books set in APARTMENT BLOCKS
Dark novel set in BANGKOK
21st October 2020
The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne, dark novel set in Bangkok.
If someone asked me who my favourite author is, I would probably say Lawrence Osborne was in my top ten list. He is a master of observation, detail (without making it boring) and always has a dark undertow to his stories (usually involving the misfortunes of ex-pats). His stories hover on the knife-edge of being credible. His work is often compared to the writing of Graham Greene, no mean feat!
This is the story of Sarah, who has ingratiated herself into the life of an elderly writer in Manhattan. She is note taker and bottle washer, housekeeper and archivist. She is well in there and then she is tasked with travelling to Hong Kong with some items, for which she will receive a substantial sum in return. Already the wheels of subterfuge are turning in her head and once in HK, with cash in hand (well, in a suitcase), she disappears to Bangkok, a bustling metropolis where she can hide for as long as it takes.
She finds a high rise apartment in the “Kingdom”, an apartment complex that still has the vestiges of its luxurious building spec. She fritters her days by swimming in the pool, hanging out and observing life around her – finding the noisy work on the building sites nearby an intrusion. Mali offers the hand of friendship and soon Sarah is in the clique, playing poker as a foursome of women, drinking into the wee small hours. Yet, there is a tangible dis-ease that she cannot put her finger on. Out on the streets there are disturbances and political revolution is brewing. Bangkok in real life can be quite a capricious and volatile city, it is currently still politically unstable and the author captures that perfectly.
When Mali seems to vanish off the face of the earth, after a rather terrifying incident, Sarah has to reassess her life.
The author has set his characters against the backdrop of this bustling and atmospheric city, and has chosen a building that is in the early stages of decay. The accommodationcomplex is populated by a variety of people and he wonderfully captures that unease between the different nationalities. The Kingdom is a metaphor for the Kingdom of Thailand and its concomitant tensions, all steel and shining buildings and glossy on the outside, hiding darker secrets beneath the glitzy facades. It is humid and cloying out there, there is the permanent rumble of the city, the construction sites and the traffic, the susurration of crickets comes and goes, the buzz of air conditioning units are a permanent distraction, when they work – the electricity often goes off, adding to the feral feel of the story.
The author has a wonderful writing style. The story, for me this time, didn’t keep me as gripped as previous novels. The first third beautifully sets the scene, then the narrative plateaus and I struggled to remain quite as engaged; and then the denouement comes! In many ways this is a powerful read and I highly recommend it if you are visiting Bangkok, it will give you a good feel for the city – the author lives there and he takes you by the hand through his – oftentimes venal – city.
Remember, Karma is out there, think carefully about your actions!
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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