“Where I go? Towards man and his secret…”. Dialogue with Lawrence Osborne

The Glass Kingdom is a decadent realm, made up of four large towers between postmodern and vintage, which has its center in a ghostly agglomeration of apartments and balconies, with the appearance of a liberty castle or a haunted house, in the center of Bangkok. A place possessed by Lovecraftian charm which is the true protagonist of the latest, magnetic, novel by Lawrence Osborne: The kingdom of glass (Adelphi, 2022). A Landolfian palace between the crumbling shadows of Gormenghast and the disturbing presences of the Overlook Hotel in Shiningin which darkness and light, West and East confuse and mix their borders becoming a great allegory of the masks and shadows of the human soul and of the various cultures that meet in this haunted residence.

In this house live the farang, the spoiled and vicious Western tourists, who come from the ends of the world to satisfy their every desire in the Thai capital, with the illusion of finding either an artificial paradise or an exotic refuge against the wear and tear of their world, bureaucratic , hysterical and mechanical. They are Japanese businessmen, US business executives, South American cooks, repressed adventure hunters and high-profile Eurasian prostitutes. Among them hides a young unhappy American secretary, Sarah Mullins, who after having carried out a scam, through some apocryphal writings, against the hag writer who assisted, decided to hide in the Thai residence hoping in vain to find a safe haven before return to the States. However, that refuge will turn into a luxurious trap, against the backdrop of a Bangkok in revolt, in the throes of supernatural blackouts, where the crystal corridors of the Kingdom, the novel’s undisputed protagonist, become the arena and theater for the clash between the East and West, of man’s tensions, thanks to a narrative structure between the exotic thriller and the ghost story. Showing Thai natives in all their aggressive complexity, building characters worthy of the best Bong Joon-Ho of Parasitesand overbearing and defenseless expatriates who, victims of gilded survival, feel like humanitarian conquerors of Southeast Asia, when they are just squalid unhappy people, fallen victims of the plots and scams of their exotic servants.

A profound look at man and his contradictions, free from stereotypes or easy moralisms, which, as Stenio Solinas underlined, does not make Osborne a Graham Greene of the global village as some ruthless reviewers want to frame him, but a lucid and merciless witness of the bewilderment of Westerners who “believe that history is over and that it won’t touch them anymore”. A look, that of Osborne – read also, always encapsulated in Adelphi, Into the Dust, Hunters in the Dark, Bangkok –, piercing and blinding that shows us man in his naked blindness, as if it were a distant object, the invention of a disappeared species that shows itself in full to the reader, in the wings of that decadent theater that is The kingdom of glass, almost making us forget that those characters are actually ourselves. In short, we have claimed Osborne for dialogue.

Because The kingdom of glass And how did the idea for this novel come about?

The novel is set in the building where I actually live and where I lived for the last ten years of my life in Bangkok. After being there for some time, I had the idea of ​​writing a story based on some of the tenants who live in the building, its strange and sometimes menacing atmosphere, perhaps inspired by the movies apartment by Roman Polanski as The tenant of the third floor And Rosemary’s Baby. My maid has always firmly insisted on the fact that this building was haunted, haunted by the ghosts of the children who died during the 1942 typhus epidemic. From these suggestions was born the character of the little girl who sometimes appears in the windows.

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From Summer of Ghosts to In the dust Passing through this text, how is your way of narrating a decadent and superficial West in search of exoticism and artificial paradises changing?

Not sure about these havens can be defined as such, nor can we say that they are completely artificial. But we can certainly study, through them, the results of the escape from a highly bureaucratized and technocratic Western system, a system that confers benefits and resources at the price, perhaps, of an existential claustrophobia. However, even in these places the dreams of the sixties are now over, as, indeed, the crazy days of South-East Asia in the nineties, now an old memory. However, I don’t think that someone in search of a new life is necessarily superficial or decadent. Often, they are simply unhappy and lost men.

How do you approach writing and what are you interested in creating or showing in one of your novels?

Basically, I’m interested in exploring the masks of Western identities: our ‘persona’. It is a word obviously derived from the Roman theater and which indicates an actor’s mask, a hard, artificial surface through which one speaks – to play. Furthermore, I am interested in understanding how this mask conflicts with other personae created over time by other cultures and identities.

In the relationship between Sarah and Mali with Goi is there all the distance between east and west?

I think yes. It’s a comic relationship in some ways, but at the same time pedestrian and based on mutually exploitative relationships.

A haunted house, the mirror of an alienated society made of crystal, the projection of its own inhabitants. Is the Kingdom the true protagonist of the novel?

Absolutely yes. This detail is a feature that has not always been understood by reviewers who often have not understood the meaning and role of the Crystal Kingdom in history. A detail that must have escaped them especially since they don’t know as many Asian horror films as I do! Certainly at the western level a concrete example could have been Shining by Stanley Kubrick, which perhaps played a central role in my initial link with the narrative element of the building and with the emotions it aroused in me.

If you were to think of another work?

I would definitely mention an oriental film. Dark Water by Hideo Nakata, for example.

In your opinion, have Western writers forgotten how to tell the story of man and have preferred to become pedagogues?

Yes, in a certain sense Western literature is going in that direction, unfortunately.

And in which direction does Lawrence Osborne go instead?

In a completely different direction! Away from all moralism and ideology, towards the secret of man, toward a human mystery

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What do you think of the debate on political correctness in art and literature?

Political correctness is a business for journalists. The great works – and the great writers – are not interested in it.

Is it true that you are writing a book set in Italy? What will she talk about?

I’m thinking of doing this – it hasn’t materialized on any computer screen yet!

In a previous interview you said you were rereading Boccaccio: which Italian authors do you prefer?

I love Curzio Malaparte and Dante Alighieri, who I studied in Cambridge with Robin Kirkpatrick, the greatest contemporary translator of the Comedy into English. We were good friends, I was twenty and at the time only six people in Cambridge were studying medieval Italian.

What are your cultural references and who inspires you when you write?

Above all, I am inspired by many films: above all, perhaps it will surprise you, I love Michelangelo Antonioni. An author that I greatly admire, not only as a director but also as a screenwriter. I also love Lee Chang-dong’s cinema, burning And oasis they are successful films: I would like to work with him one day, but I suppose that is unlikely to happen…

Do you consider yourself a traveler in a world of tourists?

This is a question I get asked often but I have to reveal that I don’t actually travel much anymore. I went to Mongolia last month, but it was to scout a location for a film I wrote and worked on recently. In short, a business trip, even if I really enjoyed it. There aren’t many tourists in Mongolia and there aren’t any in Korea either, where I had to make a stopover. Maybe I will go and live in those two countries for a while in the future…

Text and translation by Francesco Subiaco and Professor Francesco Peirce

“Where I go? Towards man and his secret…”. Dialogue with Lawrence Osborne – Pangea