ISBN 974-87691-9-4
Paperback 5" - 7 3/4"
2000, 281 pages





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Book Reviews

The Bangkok Post
Bernard Trink

Comprehending the Realm is more than speaking the language, reading its history and literature, travelling around it, living with and/or marrying its people. As only little is what it appears to be (sea and air pollution are just that), it is necessary to be sharp to see through the conjurers' attempts to spellbind us.
To his credit, Christopher G. Moore has the sharpest eyes and most discerning mind on these shores, his being an expat notwithstanding. Indeed, a good many locals are unaware of the levels and degrees of subterfuge enmeshing them. They have some idea from personal experience and the vernacular press, but that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Perusing Moore's books takes the reader through the castes, corruption, calumnies, covetousness, cant, conceit that is the nation's infrastructure. This reviewer allows that some expat authors are easier reads, but that's because their Thailand-based novels are primarily aimed at entertaining us, offering little insight. With Moore, it's the other way around.
The 16 original stories in Chairs are based on years of actual Saturday morning get-togethers of freelance journalists in Amarin Plaza (Ploenchit Road). I assume it's based on the weekly meetings of journalists at the Big Apple's Algonquin Hotel during the 1920s and '30s, though it might have its roots in French and English soirees centuries earlier.

Moore is himself, but gives the other participants fictitious names. The passing away of Sam Kohl, one of the regulars, has them recollecting incidents in his life they witnessed. They also talk about people they interviewed, leading the listeners (and readers) to doubt their veracity. Did Paul Thornton interview Bu Lu ("Luther"), one of the pre-teenage brothers that founded God's Army in Burma? It's left up in the air.

The stories are as varied as motorcyclists wearing helmets with swastikas, the state executioner doing his duty, the owner of a private English school who sets her cap for a farang she hired to teach, a writer trying to persuade Tina Turner to knock his book in order to increase its sales, an accountant refusing to have an affair with a doctor thus bringing him closer to his wife, how rivalry between Hawaiian shirt collectors is resolved.

Their usual table is near the escalators and conversation ceases whenever nubile damsels, virtually all respectable, glide up or down. All are lovely and smiling, the journalists agreeing that this combination isn't to be found in their homelands, so there's no inducement to return to them. They tell why they first came to Thailand.

Footnotes are informative and amusing; I wish there were more of them. "The Uncover Diplomat" is my favourite story, about an oil rigger who buys a secondhand car with diplomatic licence plates, breaking every traffic law on the books before the authorities outsmart him. By contrast "Ever Yours", about a Thai woman kleptomaniac, doesn't work.
To paraphrase Graham Greene in another context, Moore is our man in Bangkok.


Pattaya Mail

Contrary to its unlikely title, this is not a book about interior decorating or a catalogue of Swedish minimalist furniture. It is, in fact, the latest fiction piece (published on November 10th) from Christopher G. Moore, a prolific wordsmith with 14 previous books to his credit, and who is living in Bangkok.

The book follows the exploits of a loose-knit group of freelance journalists living and meeting weekly in the nations capital. They discuss their projects and happenings, bouncing ideas off one another, as one does in real life. Moore then cuts to the nub of the situation with the well honed skill of the surgeon, exposing the sinews and singular peculiarities that make men leave their native countries to become front-line freelancers in Asia.

What gives Moore so much of his local following is his use of Bangkok (and even our own Pattaya in this book) as the backdrop for some very skilfully crafted and very believable fiction. This effect is of course aided by having real places for his freelance journalist subjects to function within. The old Thermae on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok and even Beach Road Pattaya are believable places for some very way out, (but eminently believable in Thailand), characters to inhabit.

Another ploy to give more realism to the unreal is Moore’s use of footnotes, which are indeed factual. Within the sixteen short stories he also runs a thread of factual information, though in the piece on the Nazi helmets in Pattaya he is incorrect with the statement that the story on the helmets was broken by the Bangkok Post and the Nation. It was in fact this newspaper, the Pattaya Mail, which broke the story and the Bangkok papers picked it up from our publication of the story in our web edition. However, this but a small criticism and is not enough for us to wish to recall all the published copies!

But it is Moore’s use of the English language that appeals so much to me. Describing, for example, a Patpong bar as a place “where white women were as welcome as a crack dealer at a Baptist Revival.” Or “He looked as comfortable as an eel in a sandbox full of crabs.”
Another excellent feature in this book is that although the short narratives are all “stand alone” pieces, they are also inter-related and impinge on each other in unsuspected ways. Moore is much more than just a wordsmith, he is a literary craftsman. Particularly effective is the way the majority of the stories are narrated by one of his cast of freelancers, Sam Kohl, who then introduces the author, Christopher Moore, in the third person. Not only clever, but it works as well.

The review copy was courtesy of the publishers, Heaven Lake Press in Bangkok, but stocks of “Chairs” should be available in all leading bookshops with a RRP of 475 baht. It is an excellent read, and with the short story format you can pick it up and put it down without losing continuity. However, you won’t want to put it down!

Not since Paul Theroux’s The Consul’s Files and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, has a collection of interlocking short stories so successfully revealed the interior lives of members of a small community; in the case of Chairs, the community is a group of Bangkok freelance journalists working the frontlines of modern day Southeast Asia. By weaving narrative juxtapositions between these freelancers, the reader follows a pathway populated by adventurers, body snatchers, executioners, dreamers, collectors, diplomats, mistresses, ghosts and war veterans. Part memoir, part funeral book, these sixteen original short stories are written with flair and considerable imagination. Chairs is a richly layered eagle’s eye view of the a community of expat journalists as they struggle to understand what it means to be displaced in Thailand.

(back to book main)


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