Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

The debut novel from Pitchaya Sudbanthad is a dense collection of stories as clammy and claustrophobic as Bangkok's streets

Book Review by Katie Goh | 26 Feb 2019
  • Bangkok Wakes to Rain
Book title: Bangkok Wakes to Rain
Author: Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut novel begins as a trickle. A woman – no one, including herself, seems to know her age – walks towards a building, stops, looks up, and braces for impact. Short chapters then follow introducing us to an array of characters: a doctor living in Siam as part of a Christian missionary colony; a student bleeding out on the streets during the Thai 1970s student massacres; a fish-out-of-water woman running a Thai restaurant in Japan; an American jazz musician asked to play for ghosts; a plastic surgeon who designs teenage girls’ faces. Soon a trickle becomes a swamp as storylines spill out and begin to cross – not quite Cloud Atlas, but rather the past, present, and future vibrating against one another.
Bangkok Wakes to Rain’s strength and weakness is in its denseness. Some storylines are substantially long – nearly short stories – while others are brief vignettes that sometimes tip from the poetic into obscurity. Sudbanthad’s descriptions can be gorgeous, but they can also be muddy – the writing as clammy and claustrophobic as the streets of Bangkok. There is a heaviness to the book as the plot begins to bloat.  Sudbanthad is clearly a confident and inventive writer. The portions of the book that take place in the future especially stand out. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is certainly worth the read, however by the end of the novel, you may have to grab a mop. [Katie Goh]
Sceptre, 21 Feb, £18.99