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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Chart Korbjitti

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To purchase Time

Title: Time
Author: Chart Korbjitti
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 246 pages
Original in: Thai
Availability: Time - UK
Sonne l'heure - France
  • Thai title: เวลา
  • Translated by Marcel Barang

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Our Assessment:

B : well-conceived, quite neatly done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The structure of Time is inspired: it is narrated by a film-director who is watching a play being performed, the novel opening with the rising of the curtain, and ending when the curtain falls. The narrator describes the action (and inaction) on stage, imagines how he would film some of the scenes if he were presenting the material in his favored medium, and reflects on his own life.
       In his early sixties, he spent much of his life consumed by his art, dedicating himself completely to it. He had a wife and daughter, but has now lost both, and he laments much of what he missed of family life. Alone and aging, this play -- set in a hospital ward in an old people's home -- forces him to reflect on mortality and life.
       He's a film director who has always tried: "to stuff as much uneasiness into my movies as I feel is necessary", and one of the things that intrigues him about this play is how it also tries (generally very successfully) to make the audience uneasy. He's interested in their perspective: since this is a theater company whose members are all still in their early twenties, "a play about the inner feelings of the elderly" -- something he, already elderly himself, never thought of tackling -- seems unlikely material for them to take on. And he's also intrigued because one of the reviews: "summed it up neatly as 'the most boring play of the year'".
       It is convincingly boring -- or at least trying --, as the narrator repeatedly notes. There's little action, and long stretches of nothing beyond the "Ticktack-ticktack" of a clock, of time itself passing:

     Time goes by. Goes by without anything happening on stage.
     Five minutes pass by.
     Pass by ever so slowly.
     Im beginning to feel uneasy. Uneasy sitting here watching a clock ticking. Uneasy at the lack of action.
       What action there is is also largely unremarkable, a day in the life of those in the ward. They eat, visitors come selling things (food, lottery tickets), others come to 'make merit' -- do good, as is their Buddhist duty --, there's some fuss about some apparently missing money. Some shuffle around a bit, others barely even move. They almost all feel rather abandoned, complaining about how their families have shoved them off and now ignore them.
       All in all:
Its merely a succession of small events displayed in chronological order, and each of these events has little of interest. They are just ordinary events of daily life. On top of that, now the audience is made to look at people sleeping !
       At times the narrator gets frustrated and bored by what he's seeing (or not seeing), but his thoughts generally don't wander very far. The play does have a grip on him, and when he thinks about the details he does admire what the theater company is doing:
Ive been taught that everything in a scene must be relevant to the story. Im convinced these people have been taught likewise.
       He also notes the differences in the mediums -- the one where he was in command, and this other one where he now sits passively as an observer:
At this point, I think a play on stage is rather limited in its expression, especially in the scenes that have many people without any particular part. The audience wont know where to look, which is different from movies. In a movie, were able to force the people to look at the pictures we want them to look at.
       He notes: "If it were a movie, youd get to see more than the scene in here", but the play remains claustrophobically fixed inside, in the dark (and complete with urine-smell, for added effect).
       It's a neat idea for a story, and Korbjitti handles it very well. Of course, the drawback of describing, in such detail, such a drawn-out play that wallows in the mundane is that much of it isn't particularly riveting. Korbjitti livens up the narrated play by having his narrator imagine some of the scenes in film-script form, and also by including his reflections, both on what he sees on the stage and more personal ones about his own life. So there's more to the story than just the stage-play -- but perhaps not quite enough, as Korbjitti rarely digs deep or strays far enough. Again, this is, in a sense, accurate -- as in true-to-life --, the story constrained by the play-length, everything having to fit in between the curtain rising and falling, but a bit more wandering of and in the narrator's mind would have been welcome.
       If not entirely successful, Time is nevertheless an intriguing read, both formally creative and quite well-written.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 February 2014

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About the Author:

       Thai author Chart Korbjitti (ชาติ กอบจิตติ) was born in 1954.

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