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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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.