Love, death and laughter in the city of different angels: S.P. Somtow’s Bangkok Gothic

Katarzyna Ancuta


S.P. Somtow’s novel The Other City of Angels (2008) portrays Bangkok as a Gothic metropolis: a city stuck between illusion and reality, where dreams and nightmares come to life, simultaneously backwards and modern, spiritual and material, and full of peculiarities that make one doubt whether such a place exists at all. It is a temple to consumerism filled with fortune tellers and high society serial killers that for Somtow, a composer himself, can best be expressed through the jarringly haunting sounds of Béla Bartók’s music. The Other City of Angels (2008) is a modern retelling of the Gothic tale of Bluebeard’s wife and her fatal discovery of her husband’s dark secret, and – true to its Gothic origins – it is filled with romance, terror, and laughter. This paper focuses on the novel’s comic dimension and discusses Somtow’s use of dark humour and the Gothic grotesque as a strategy to exoticize Bangkok for foreign readers by simultaneously reinforcing and defying Western stereotypes of Bangkok as the Oriental city, once (in)famously described in the Longman dictionary as the city of temples and prostitutes (Independent, 6 July 1993). The paper also explores the way comic elements are used to offset the critical commentary on class division and social inequality that are seen as ingrained in the fabric of Thai culture and further aggravated by the materialism and consumerism characteristic of contemporary Thai society.

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