Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne

An enjoyably unsettling karmic-noir novel set in a decadent (and decaying) luxury apartment complex during times of political upheaval in Bangkok. 

The most developed character in the story is the city itself. 

My one experience of the Thai capital occurred a decade ago, and was both striking and limited, as I showed up at precisely one of these moments of conflict and curfew. As I collected my boarding pass at Narita the JAL check-in agent admonished me thus: “Bangkok...dangerous”, a movie reference which tickled me at the time.

Lawrence Osborne’s Bangkok is indeed a subtly dangerous place to exist as a foreigner of fluctuating purpose and identity. None of the western characters here are properly aware of how over-ripe tropical biology and sociology are slowly usurping their high-rise sanctuary. (Which turns out to be the author's actual current abode.)
Some of the protagonists turn out to be dramatic dead-ends, and yet are no less welcome acquaintances, such as Ximena, the Chilean chef. (Curiously, The Kingdom most reminds me of a complex called Infinity in downtown Santiago of which I have three times become a short-term resident.)
Even Goi, the access-all-areas apartment cleaner seems to offer plot potentialities which decline along with the entire environment.
I can now confirm that stories set in such blocks are almost as appealing to me as those set in old luxury hotels.

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