21 May 2009

824 | แปดสองสี่

824 is a (not quite) new novel by Jane Vejjajiva, who did stir the Thai literary circles with her debut The Happiness of Kati. However, in my humble opinion, this work is far better than her former, which already won her the SEA Write award. Well, my compliments don't logically mean that she'll automatically get the Nobel Prize for Literature, but at least it does show that her expertise doesn't only lie in the portrayal of the upper-middle class.

The strange title does have a meaning: Jane tries to depict the lives of 8 beings (seven people and one dog) within 24 hours. They all live down the same alley and even though they don't know each other, their lives somehow are related. Doesn't this sound a bit too familiar? If you think this is something truly new, I'd recommend you to read MR Kukrit Pramoj's Many Lives and, of course, its prototype -- Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which was first published as far back as 1927. However, different from these two novels, which end with death, 824 ends with hope.

The characters do vary as the author attempts to cast a wide net to capture creatures from all walks of life, from various gender and class dimensions. Therefore, we have a good-intentioned transvestite, a drunkard, an old man who despite his age tries to take care of an old lady with whom he fell in love long time ago, and a Frenchman who is head over heels in love with Bangkok. All in all, 824 has all the material to create a soi melodrama, in which all characters have challenges to overcome, past to forget, present to live, and future to look forward to.

Even though some elements are a bit cheesy, like the love story between the two old people and the transvestite's secret admiration for a younger man who accepts him for who he really is, we can't deny that the author remains a strong strategist who plans and plots (in all meaning of the word) everything carefully, so much so that every life seems to miraculously intertwined that there's no space for "reality" to happen. In other words, the all-too-well plotted plot has no loose ends, thus reiterating its status as fiction rather than reflecting life.

Somehow, I find this perfection a bit too oppressive, as we all know that life is not like that. Life has, as it were, loose ends and dead ends. If The Happiness of Kati is the ideal portrayal of the upper-middle-class girl who learns to cope with the death of her mother, 824 is likewise idealistic in its depiction of cosmic ordering of the lives of seven people and one dog, an order so monstrous that it can only be created by a human who yearns for meaning in such a meaningless world.

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