Deluded Review – Anna and the King of Siam
About the Book Anna and the King of Siam
- Written by Margaret Landon
- 388 pages
- Published August 23th 2016
From Goodreads: In 1862, recently widowed and with two small children to support, British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens agrees to serve as governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (present-day Thailand), unaware that her years in the royal palace will change not only her own life, but also the future of a nation.
This captivating novel brilliantly combines in-depth research—author Margaret Landon drew from Siamese court records and Anna’s own writings—with richly imagined details to create a lush portrait of 1860s Siam.
Well, I’m not sure where to start with this one. I guess at the beginning. Prior to this, I’d never seen the movie or musical versions of this tale, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was under the mistaken assumption that it might involve romance between Anna and the King. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
This disaster of a “novel” begins with a thorough explanation of how it came into being. The author, Margaret Landon, found a couple of old memoirs published by Anna Leonowens about the time she spent as an English governess in Siam. Completely intrigued by her tale, she decided to convert the memoirs into a novel entitled Anna and the King of Siam for the general public to savor and enjoy. Unfortunately, she did a terrible job of it, crafting one of the most poorly written tales I’ve read in a while.
Instead of taking the journal and converting it into an enchanting tale, she merely copies and pastes. Seriously. I’d say at least one fourth of the novel is verbatim letters, quotes, or journal entries directly taken from these real life figures. That would be fine if this were a history book or a biography… but it’s not. It’s labeled as a work of historical fiction. FICTION. THAT MEANS YOU SHOULDN’T JUST PLAGIARIZE ALL OF THESE REAL LIFE PEOPLE BY USING THEM AS FILLER IN YOUR BOOK. If I had wanted to read a nearly 400 page book on the history of Siam, I would have.
I think this technique would have been ok if there had been any sort of plot in the novel. Unfortunately, there isn’t. The book is comprised of a series of events and stories that take place over six years. Many are seemingly unconnected and worthless to the reader – scintillating parts of the palace life once mentioned, are never brought up again. It’s very clear that Landon followed Leonowens diary/memoir to a T, because it has the rhythm and flow of someone writing for their own sake rather than for a general audience. Instead of taking this source material and transforming it into a viable and enchanting work of fiction, Landon has simply changed the narrative voice to third person and contributed quotes and letters from a few different sources.
Even with the lack of storytelling prowess, the book would have been OK if the writing had been more tolerable. Landon certainly fails us on this point as well. She painstakingly writes methodical descriptions that lack any sort of eloquence or flair. Despite the pages and pages of description, I could barely picture any of the scenery or characters in my mind. Everything she described came across as lifeless. It very much read like a person listing details of an event or place for their personal use, without any sort of attempt at following established writing structures. During the description of several events, she kept using the structure “And then… then… then” instead of trying to come up with any sort of transition or flow between ideas. It might just be the writer in me, but it was extremely bothersome.
There were a few parts of the “novel” that were enjoyable. These were the chapters that dealt with stories of the people of the palace, such as how Anna helped the women of the harem get out of trouble or how the proceedings of her school were going. These stories were the only thing holding this history textbook together, in my opinion. It is through these that we get to actually see Anna as a character rather than this vessel through whom the story is experienced. We also get to learn more about the life and atmosphere of the people of Siam, which is much more interesting than simply reading another drawn out description of a palace or being vomited on with the entire historical context of the French as they try to gain more territory in the Siam region.
To me, recounting the details of an already published memoir with only minimal editing should not count as an original novel. I don’t care enough to investigate the differences between the two publications, but if I had to bet, they would be startlingly similar in their construction. If anything Anna’s tales might be more intriguing simply because she doesn’t word vomit about all of the history of Siam every other chapter.
I do think this tale had promise if it had been constructed by a better author. However, the way that this novel was formed made Anna’s adventures seem not even worth the pages they were printed on. Her pride and happiness in completely “westernizing” the country came across as very bigoted and actually made me dislike her. And at the end of the day, it made me wonder – if she hated it so much there, why didn’t she just LEAVE?!
Regardless of Anna’s inaction, I am going to take a stand and LEAVE Anna and the King of Siam behind me. I would encourage you to do the same, unless you really want to learn about Siamese history and politics in the 1860s.