by Lang Reid
a run of thrillers and who-dunnits, this week’s coffee table tome was a
welcome change. Jim Thompson - the House on the Klong (ISBN 9-8130-1868-2,
Archipelago Press, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002) was co-authored by William Warren
and Jean-Michel Beurdeley, with photographs by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni. It is
indeed a coffee table book with hard cover and full colour all the way through.
At the front, acknowledgement is made of the James H.W.
Thompson Foundation, under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri
Sirindhorn, which effectively looks after the property, now designated as a
national museum. The fact that the house was built and its contents were
collected by an American businessman is an unfortunate indictment of the Thai
personality, which in the late 50’s and early 60’s was slavishly looking
towards the American dream, rather than maintaining its own culture. Warren
points this out, but more gently than my critique.
The book is divided into four main sections - A man and his
house, The Garden, A visit to the house and the Art collection. The co-authors
share these sections, with William Warren contributing to the historical
aspect, while Beurdeley deals with examination of the collected art. The format
is similar in each, with a narrative at the front leading into well captioned
Warren the historian was a friend of Jim Thompson, so much
of the history relies on his personal memories, but these give the book an
immediacy and a personal touch. While reading the book, you are not kept aware
of the disappearance of the house owner, and in a small way it continues the
mystique surrounding the American silk magnate.
You are also given some thumbnail sketches of Bangkok of 45
years ago and earlier, both through the eyes of William Warren and those of
luminaries such as W. Somerset Maugham. Warren backs up Invernizzi Tattoni’s
photographs with old letters and archival photographs and architectural plans,
Thompson being an architect before he began to delve into the silk trade.
Romance, Asian art, Thai architecture, Buddhism and oriental
paintings are all here, rolled into one book. However, this is not an
inexpensive book at B. 1,295, but as a reference volume it is priceless. Anyone
who has any feelings for old Siam, as Jim Thompson did, will enjoy looking at
the house that Jim Thompson built, and the art treasures he collected and
housed inside it.
William Warren, a very accomplished writer and historian,
avoids examination of the mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson, but
steadfastly looks at the house and its origins, while art authority Beurdeley
deals with description of the art pieces. Factor in the exquisite photographs
by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni and you have the complete and authoritative book on
this remarkable house.
I enjoyed this book from hard cover to hard cover. My only disappointment
was the fact that the book was printed in Singapore. Many years ago, it was
necessary for ‘art’ books to be published in Singapore or Hong Kong, but
not any more. Perhaps future editions can be proudly printed in Thailand. They
deserve to be.