Newbold, Robin. “Bangkok Burning”,The Conrad Press, 2021.
Searching and Finding
In “Bangkok Burning”, writer Robin Newbold introduces us to Graham Floyd, a man who is deep in the closet and beset by anxiety issues. He decides he needs a change so he trades his apartment in London and moves to Bangkok, a city know for chaos. He meets Natasha, a trans schemes with whom he falls in love. This is the story of Graham’s struggle to find himself and of the dark side of desire.
Graham left behind his marriage and becomes part of the life of Natasha a “ladyboy, he met at a cabaret bar. Soon the two are in love. The book spans several years during which Graham’s life changes over and over. He had first met Natasha while on a trip to Thailand with his wife but after kissing her, he could not get her out of his mind. When he went back to England, he could not stop thinking about her and flees back to Thailand. He finds Natasha, buys a bar and sets her up in it. What he did know was that she had a group of friends that were something of a rogue’s gallery and exist outside of Thai society.
Graham is on a journey that takes him to the dark corners of his life and of his mind but he believes that he is living the life he was meant to live. He loves his new home and finds it addictive. Bangkok becomes a character in the story. It is, in the author’s words “hot, exotic, erotic, dynamic and it really does attack all the senses.” But that, we see is only on the surface. The gay scene is not what it seems to be. Visitors see it as one of the freest places on Earth but there is little acceptance. Bangkok can be very cutthroat and unsentimental.
Newbold sheds light on the dark world of ladyboys and we see how Bangkok became a destination for sex. Many of the hang-ups about. Sex in the Western world do not exist there and we see that the line between exploitation and the exploited is paper thin.
Quite basically this is the story of Graham dealing with who he is and it could be the story of any of us who live unhappily in a situation that does not fit who we really are. We see Graham’s flaws and we understand his pain of being in the closet. He has to free himself and make his own way and his own daughter who was killed as a teen in a car crash told him, before she died, to leave his wife and find himself. When he finds Natasha, all the feelings that he has longed for come to the fore and he finally realizes that the time has come to change paths. This is quite a decision for him and he becomes something of a hero.
This was, for me, a book that I could not put down and I read it in one sitting. While I did not suffer as Graham did, I saw something of myself in it making this more than just a novel but a total experience. It is beautifully written with wonderful descriptions and great insights. I totally recommend it.