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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Bangkok Days

“Take this one,” said the pleasant girl in Bookazine, pointing to Bangkok Days. I was about to refuse, saying I had read it already, when I realized that the previous book I had read was Bangkok Nights.
Bangkok Days is written by Lawrence Osborne (ISBN 978-1-846-55298-4, Harvill Secker publishers, 2009) whose previous books include The Accidental Connoisseur and The Naked Tourist, so he is no novice to the genre.
Bangkok Days is a narrative, with the author describing his (Bangkok) days as he explores the Thai capital on foot, claiming to be as poor as the proverbial temple dog.
Author Osborne has a keen eye and a full vocabulary. Describing his feelings after being told of a spirit inhabiting his garden he writes, “The mood suddenly changes. As the spirits move, a supernatural breeze stirs a chime, a bough, or a piece of grit against my tongue - and there for a second I feel them, shrilling like pipes in the distance, flickering in the dark with the mosquitoes.”
He deals at length with some of the other expats he meets, the Brit, the Aussie and the Spaniard. His eye examines his fellow expats finely. “Bangkok was filled with guys who played in unknown rock bands, ran bars, designed hotel toilets, but among them the fires of genuine ambition were not necessarily extinguished.” And one wonders whether that also described our author?
Amongst those who he meets and describes are Father Joe Maier and Sister Joan from the Klong Toey slums, two tireless workers who somehow have managed to retain a semblance of sanity whilst working in an environment that almost defies any sane logic.
He also deals in depth with his experiences in the Bumrungrad Hospital, claiming that he and his room mate, intravenous drips and all, walked out of the palatial building and spent the evening at a girly bar on Soi Nana. I wonder if the hospital knows it has been given a less than glorious mention?
He spends time in Soi 33, flitting in and out of the painter’s bars, giving the reader a guide without guile. And it is a “guide” that this book really turns out to be. A guide not just to Bangkok, but to the expats and how (some of) us live.
It is on the shelf at B. 650 and is printed on the most abysmal paper stock known to mankind. The publishers must have been reprimanded for chopping down forests, so saved the trees with this one. Read it quickly before the three micron thin pages disintegrate.
However, Osborne is a gifted writer, and his prose elevates the reader to a higher plane than is usual in paperbacks. In fact, so high that I felt the subject, with all its banality, was beneath him. As a travelogue, it didn’t need the salacious moments. It would have been better without it. Perhaps with the success of The Naked Tourist, Osborne felt that more of the same was the formula. A good book that is even cheapened by its cover. He is a seriously good writer who should not trivialize his talents.