19 July 2011

Collin Piprell, Bangkok Knights, 1989

Thailand has a boisterous and sometimes shady breed of expat fiction, something with which you take your chances and inevitably court disappointment. Canadian author and journalist Collin Piprell started out writing guide books for Thailand’s diving community then worked his way into getting his short fiction published in the Bangkok Post. These are bar stories, yet their quality may be a cut above the rest in this often seedy sub-genre of world literature because Bangkok Knights has already received three different editions from three different publishers. If so, this collection probably sets a good ‘bar story’ standard: all of them are gently humorous or bittersweet in tone, neither outlandishly sexist nor patronising, and they share a cast of fairly well characterised (if sometimes rather clichéd) expat Western males combined with an assortment of colourful (if also rather clichéd) Thai females. What I expected to find, and certainly did, is that uneasy distrust that often sees them eyeing each other warily over the cultural barricades while still needing each other for various pre-determined selfish reasons, in fact it’s often this cultural frisson that informs each story’s plot.

The first-person narrator of all the stories remains largely invisible throughout except for a couple of episodes, one which describes a journalistic trip up the Maekok river that goes disastrously wrong (in fact the only non-bar story in the collection and probably the best), and the final outing which is an interesting mixture of relationship and identity crises running in parallel, something that probably comes upon any emotionally unattached, long-time expat resident of Thailand. Piprell has also written three novels – I expect I’ll be reading them all.  PY


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