People in Glass Houses: a review of Lawrence Osborne’s The Glass KingdomBy J.P. Smith
August 24, 2020
As I’d written in 2017, in a review of his novel Beautiful Animals, Lawrence Osborne’s characters tend to stumble into things: whether as a result of an accident, as in The Forgiven, or by winning big at the roulette table, as in Hunters in the Dark: as if they had stepped into the intersection of opportunity and desire. What they heretofore envisaged only nebulously, something that couldn’t be put into words, now possessed a vocabulary and the will to act upon it. Like so many of Lawrence Osborne’s characters, Sarah Mullins, late of New York City and now a fugitive from the law, is a Westerner stuck in the quicksand of an alien culture she can’t even begin to comprehend; and like Robert Grieve, in Osborne’s earlier novel, Hunters in the Dark, she has travelled there to reinvent herself. Or maybe just to lose herself. Because, like so many protagonists in Osborne’s work, she has stepped over the bounds of the light of day and found treasures in the night, and one day someone might come knocking at her door.
She has just moved into her seven-room apartment in the Bangkok complex known as the Kingdom, with its four glass towers, each of twenty-one floors, in a city with its “decay that held a dark human nectar inside it.” Impressive in its description, the place is running down fast, just like the others in the city, “sinking into their own twilight.” And, as with Elsinore castle in Hamlet, nearly all the action is set within its walls. The claustrophobia, the ability to see into other people’s rooms and habits in this world of glass, works on the reader to evoke a sense of foreboding. Something’s coming; something bad.