A journey through contemporary Cambodia, where we encounter gambling, drugs, murder—and the mystery of human identity.
Englishman Robert Grieve is bored with his life as a teacher in Sussex and spends his holidays in faraway places such as Greece and Iceland. One summer he goes to Thailand, and out of ennui as well as a spirit of adventure, he decides to travel to Cambodia. On his first night there, he gets lucky at cards and wins $2,000. It turns out this will bankroll a substantial vacation, so he decides to stay for a while and see what fate will bring. He soon meets a charismatic American, Simon Beauchamp, an expatriate with an aura of the sinister about him. Independently wealthy, Beauchamp is very much at home in the Khmer culture and begins to serve as Grieve’s guide and mentor in Cambodian ways. Grieve decides to hang his shingle as a tutor of English, and very soon a Dr. Sar makes arrangements for him to tutor his daughter, Sophal, who becomes both Grieve’s student and his lover. Something doesn’t quite feel right, however, because Sophal is quite a woman of the world—she’s been studying medicine in Paris—and her English is excellent, so it’s not clear to Grieve why her father insists on the connection. And now Osborne (The Ballad of a Small Player, 2014, etc.) cunningly convolutes his narrative and turns it in a Graham Green–ish direction, for perversely, Grieve starts to introduce himself as “Simon Beauchamp,” a confusion that will eventually lead him into danger. After a terrible crime is committed against Beauchamp, Davuth, a smooth and utterly corrupt policeman, gets involved in the case and vows to turn it to his own advantage.
Complex in plot yet simple and intense in style, Osborne’s narrative takes us into an Asian heart of darkness.