The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth, by Veeraporn Nitiprapha

James Tennent

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl does not exist in the wild. This is not just because the playful, airy, catch-me-if-you-can nature is, in truth, too tiring for anyone to really pull off – it’s mainly because, in any real situation, they’d just seem incredibly selfish. Zooey Deschanel is singing in the storage room, where other people presumably have to work; Natalie Portman is having a funeral for a hamster when she really could be doing better things with her time.

And yet. It might have been permissible in the golden age of cinema while actors hammed up everything and a general atmosphere of the stage kept the reality away but now the real is seeping in stronger and stronger – you don’t play a part anymore, you are it and we as audience digest is as a possible persona.

But where’s the surprise? A culture continually atomised and focused on individualistic self-discovery doesn’t breed people who can see far past their softly lit noses. How many manic pixies have those circular lighting rigs that make their eyes pop for TikToks where they react to other TikToks. Fraud upon fraud.

Chareeya comes to us in a time before TikTok, raised in Thailand in the last decades of the twentieth century, but there are the older flashpoints of pixidom. After diving underwater to chase an emerald spider and scaring everyone up above, the young Chareeya’s initial instinct on being saved by the quiet Pran is to tell him to leave her alone.

So develops a love story thread through Veeraporn Nitiprapha’s recently translated novel, The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth, that takes us into the magical eyes of a family devastated by love but who can’t seem to see anything past it. Chalika and her perfect sweet desserts, her sister Chareeya and her blooming garden, the orphan Pran and his desperate search for familial connection. Scents and tastes abound, whirring images of a train car window take you across a much travelled country with fresh eyes.

Though the tasty description, poetic prose and musical interludes, there rears the familiar head. Chareeya working at a record store (of course), getting into relationships with terrible men (naturally), generally ignoring poor pining Pran. Pran who barely knew family and who can’t quite seem to put together his feelings for Chareeya until it’s all too late.

Poor unsuspecting Pran who closes his eyes at her behest as she plays a beautiful Schumann Opus – it’s not quite The Shins but surely Thailand’s a Garden State in its own right. It makes you want to yell ‘Get out while you still can Pran! She’s not worth it!’

Nitiprapha throws us around here, as she means to. We, like her characters, are similarly desperate and directionless – writhing in the dark like the titular earthworm, lost in the underground labyrinth of its own making, thinking of women who can’t exist and who we wouldn’t really want to.

It’s good to keep the unreal here. While newer representation confuses us with accuracy and simulation, the unreal can keep us enthused but disconnected. Enjoying and learning while seeing where reality starts. You don’t really want the pixie but there’s something to the character, bringing out blindness in others, a deux ex machina of spontaneity that makes plots much easier to piece together. What’s her motivation in this moment? Oh just quirk.

The character as narrative device that can, in the case of Nitiprapha, be used to great effect, just so long as the unreal stays and the ethereal props us out of reality, to think on other levels while still seeing the base around us. The real and the unreal. A distinction that’s lost in postmodern thought and as important as ever as we try to navigate a system of that pits us against manipulative advertising, fraudulent fashion magazines and a genre of show that gets given the name reality while assaulting the concept.

It feels fulfilling, almost, that things don’t quite work out for the magical family, that, if anything, its their magical thinking that takes them apart from each other and the world, to miseries that otherwise could have been avoided. This is not a fate divined, it’s a series of choices made by those who don’t want to see the truth in front of them; to think a little about the consequences of their actions.

It’s a good reminder that we need to see the forest for the trees. The walls for the labyrinth.

James Tennent is a writer currently based in Laos. You can find him @duckytennent on Twitter and @jeatennent on Instagram.