Writer Henrik List’s latest novel “Solen skinner aldrig på en go-go-bar” takes place in Pattaya. Two Danish journalists are pursuing a famous, but scandal-ridden artist far away from their native country of generous welfare and stifling conformity.
Solen skinner aldrig på en go-go-bar (“The Sun Never Shines In a Go-Go Bar”) is the latest book by 48-year-old Danish writer Henrik List. It is a captivating, satirical contemporary novel with crime elements, taking place in the world-famous den of iniquity, Pattaya. A setting far from the freshly painted villas and well-manicured lawns of the Danish suburbs.
“It is a darkly funny, satirical take on politically correct Danish or Scandinavian middle-class values in the 21st century. More than ever we are obsessed about living the perfect life. This novels uses the unofficial free zone of Pattaya as a laboratory, into which I dump two quite different Danish guys from different generations, to see how they react, and to check how their moral values hold up in this rice steamer.”
The story unfolds when a famous and internationally respected Danish artist is about to open an exhibition at the National Art Museum in Copenhagen, entitled “Go-Go-Gauguin” with references to Paul Gauguin, the french impressionist artist, who painted naked teenage girls in his colonial paradise in Tahiti.
The exhibition is rumoured to feature large-scale erotic photos of underage Thai girls and quickly makes front page headlines in Denmark’s tabloids. We follow the narratives of two Danish journalists, who gets assigned to tracking down the artist in his exile, a Robinson Crusoe island near Koh si Chang in the Gulf of Thailand, close to Pattaya.
Rune, the rising-star journalist and idealist, from the left-leaning morning paper, and Bob, the older hack writer who is already living in Pattaya, while freelancing for a tabloid, to make ends meet. Bob´s initially overbearing perspective is affected by his many years living in the area. Rune on the other hand is quickly overwhelmed by the many impressions in “Sin City”, and he maneuvers as elegant as he can, through a wide-range of scenes and obscurities, while dealing with dodgy police officers and alluring bar girls.
A “free city”
Henrik List started visiting Pattaya at the beginning of the new century and became so fascinated by the place that he now calls it a city that he loves. The self-governing municipality has the air of an autonomous “free city” and is a socio-cultural melting pot to boot. Here Indians, Japanese, Russians, Americans and, of course, Danes party and indulge in either the decadence of the red light districts, the high society lounges at luxury beach hotels, enjoy wellness-treatments, play golf, get tanked in beer-bars or just take care of their family in a bustling, cosmopolitan 24/7 city, where everybody can live and let live with out caring too much about what other people think about them.
Henrik List sees Pattaya as an “inter-zone”, a vibrant, colorful oasis in today´otherwise more and more bland, politically correct and globalized capitalist world. The phrase was coined by William Burroughs, a famous beat-writer, to describe the Moroccan city of Tangier, back in the fifties, where all types of people from all types of places used to come and live there, giving the place a certain vibe of bohemian anarchy, sexual allure and exotic unpredictability.
“There is a massive amount of prejudice about Pattaya being all about sex-tourism – stereotypes I want to trigger and challenge at the same time with the title of the novel. Of course there is some truth to the cliches, but over past fifteen years, when I have been coming here, there has been a visible paradigm shift, an upgrading of the city in all respects, and todays Pattaya is so much more than just old Western men with young Thai girls on their laps in sleazy beer-bars,” Henrik List stressed.
Solen skinner aldrig på en go-go bar has been in the making for almost four years and Henrik List has done a lot of research into Thai culture, Buddhism and politics, while he has also drawn upon some invaluable local contacts both among the authorities and expat community in Pattaya.
“One of the aspects that I find so interesting about Southeast Asian culture and Thailand in particular, is the mash-ups between the high and the low, the spiritual and the frivolous, the sacred and the commercial – for instance when you see Buddhist monks blessing a new naughty nightclub on behalf of the temple in the same neighborhood. It would be unthinkable to see a Protestant priest praying at the opening of a bar or a nightclub in the West in the same fashion. In that sense, there is a special blend of ancient native rituals and contemporary Western pop culture in Thailand, that I personally find really cool and totally original.”
Pattaya might be an extreme example of this, with the seamier side of life and pole-dancing girls that could be added to the mix. But that only makes the sea-side city an even more inspiring location and setting for a novel, where it becomes a sort of antithesis to rigid conformity of Denmark.
“I am not convinced that we are as tolerant as a society anymore, as we would like to portray ourselves to be. Over the years, we have become more and more anxious and unforgiving, and if you step out of line, the system is quick to correct and discipline you. “Big Mother” – the big, complex welfare state hugs you, initially with the best intentions, but all that maternal affection and supervision – don´t smoke! don´t drink, don’t eat unhealthy food, don´t have unsafe sex! – becomes claustrophobic and too close for comfort and ends up snuffing out your creativity and originality.”
Solen skinner aldrig på en go-go-bar is the 17th book release by Henrik List and his second novel. His bibliography includes non fiction, travelogues and cultural essays, with urban life, outsiders, pop culture and sexual taboos as recurring themes.