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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

The Blind Earthworm
in the Labyrinth


by
Veeraporn Nitiprapha


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth



Title: The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth
Author: Veeraporn Nitiprapha
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 203 pages
Original in: Thai
Availability: The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth - US
The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth - UK
The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth - Canada
  • Thai title: ไส้เดือนตาบอดในเขาวงกต
  • Translated by Kong Rithdee

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Our Assessment:

B : effective presentation and often appealing loose vision

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bangkok Post . 9/11/2015 Kaona Pongpipat
The NY Times Book Rev. . 7/4/2019 Hannah Beech
The Straits Times A 4/3/2019 Ho Ai Li


  From the Reviews:
  • "In other words, it's where all forms of melodrama are put into written form, an intentionally and carefully designed piece of literary kitsch. (...) And it's not just readers who are Veeraporn's "blind earthworms in a labyrinth". Though drama is her literary device and melodramatic love and tragedy her subjects, the writer also addresses the increasing number of people in society who are also earthworms blinded by bias and ideology, which alludes to our social and political conflicts over the past decade or so. (...) On one level, the book is pure soap opera, gripping and entertaining. Reading the book twice or more, however, it seems it has been written for the sole purpose of mocking itself." - Kaona Pongpipat, Bangkok Post

  • "Like a Thai soap opera that captivates viewers in air-conditioned condos and wooden shacks alike, the novel follows three characters, two sisters named Chareeya and Chalika and an orphaned boy named Pran, and the concentric circles of melodrama and tragedy that trap them. There are affairs, deaths and doomed romances aplenty but, as in a telenovela, the effect is less poignant and more propulsive. (...) The effect of Veeraporn's narrative is akin to a malarial hallucination, but that's what Bangkok feels like: a soap opera in which someone wakes up and realizes that the preceding episodes were all just a fever dream." - Hannah Beech, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) tour de force that looks at the romantic ideals that come to us from stories and songs, and how they can cause us to lose our way, like blind earthworms in a labyrinth. (...) This slim novel is like a seductive and intoxicating soap opera. (...) Melodramatic and mesmerising, the book dives deep into love and comes up smelling of roses." - Ho Ai Li, The Straits Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth is set in modern Thailand, mostly in Nakhon Chai Si, near Bangkok. The central characters are Chalika and her three year younger sister Chareeya; another figure, Pran, who has a peripatetic childhood, eventually settles near them and becomes a significant presence in their lives much of the time.
       The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth is a novel in which parents are often distant, and die before their children come of age. Chareeya is born on the day her mother discovers the girls' father is having an affair, a crushing blow to the entire family. The mother loves her husband deeply, but, even as he returns to the fold, he can not reciprocate it, becoming just a shell of himself; neither parent is capable of giving their two daughters the emotional support children need, the mother becoming: "the woman who kept her distance, even though she never failed to take care of her children". The father is even less of a presence in the household:

     To the girls, Father's existence was a mystifying phenomenon: he was a transparent entity they could almost see through. He would show up silently at random corners of the house and disappear without a trace when no one was looking.
       The father's great passion was for another woman -- a story that is only fully revealed deep into the novel, in a splendid chapter that describes that woman's fate through the lingering traces of her name (Rosarin), a small vortex of narrative typical for a novel that circles around in time and whose individual chapters are themselves often like eddies. He eventually falls ill, and dies; for a year after that the girls' mother "sat from dawn to dusk above the grave of the only man she had ever loved. [...] To be certain he would never rest in peace"; then she died, too, when Chalika was barely a teen.
       The household is taken over by Uncle Thanit, who had gone to study in Japan, fallen in love and married (twice), and had owned a record store near Kyoto. He comes to Nakhon Chai Si with sixty-three boxes -- "fifty-five of them filled with vinyl records, eight packed with books" -- and settles in. He introduces classical music into the household, and music comes to play a large role in the novel -- including with Pran, by then already a neighbor, eventually forming a band (which he names, almost predictably, given the general tenor of the novel: 'Broken Soul').
       The narrative swirls around different episodes and times in the characters' lives, agreeably intense and evocative, even as the general sense, of almost all their lives, is one of drift. Like the father who was practically just a spectral presence, the characters, even when they show intense passions and interests, drift through life. At the extremes, Uncle Thanit withdraws to a monastery, while the adult Pran long travels aimlessly about. And even the dead sometimes linger: the villagers can still see the girls' mother years after her death (but not the girls: "the inhabitants of the house couldn't, both when she was dead but also when she was still alive; transparent, intangible, unaware of the eyes peering at her from the wall").
       Chalika is the most settled of the characters, remaining in Nakhon Chai Si, and long running a successful dessert shop. She is a beautiful woman, but remains oblivious to all the heads she turns; she: "glowed with the magical aura of a literary heroine, complete with fortitude, virtue and patience" but barely registers that she could play a much larger role of her own in real life, preferring to withdraw into the books she's passionately devoured since she became: "a sworn reader of romance novels when she was barely ten". Her sister Chareeya has always had many more interests -- even if she didn't really stick to any of her passions for long, as she: "wanted to be something new every day".
       Chareeya experiences more from life, including having love affairs; for quite a while she works at a CD shop in Bangkok. Among the men in her life is Natee, who pretends to be a freelance journalist, and stays apart from Chareeya for extended periods of time, pretending to be on foreign assignments: "that was who he really was, Natee wasn't acting. He believed with genuine conviction that he really was a war correspondent" -- yet another character who is, in yet another way, adrift.
       Other characters also come to the fore at times, including the girls' nanny Nual, who matures into her own odd family, three men sharing fatherhood of her five children in an unusual but functioning arrangement. But The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth always circles back to and around Chalika and Chareeya and Pran; so also in its conclusion. Typically, when Chareeya returns to the family home after a longer absence:
     Chalika had hardly eaten in the past few months and had become so small that Chareeya was confused as to whether or not her sister had reverted to a ten-year-old self.
       While The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth isn't quite circular there is a timeless feel to much of what happens -- and to many of the characters -- and even as the story in a sense progresses, with the characters aging, as important is the underlying sameness of so much. The chapters don't quite neatly follow on one another, as Veeraporn builds them up individually -- but there is so much overlap, and so much of the same foundations (often incidental, but omnipresent), that the novel does feel satisfyingly whole.
       A touch of the fantastical -- presented as so natural and normal that it doesn't feel awkwardly exaggerated -- and the way whole lives are contained here makes for a quite rich novel, bigger than its actual size. The general feeling of drift -- in characters and action -- might bother some who prefer more certainty to their stories, but The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth is an intriguing, and sometimes magical -- in action and language -- meandering tale.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 April 2020

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Links:

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Thai author Veeraporn Nitiprapha (วีรพร นิติประภา) was born in 1962.

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© 2020 the complete review

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