For philosophically inclined readers...

The Prologue and opening three chapters of The Otters and the Jackal include references to the coup that took place in Thailand in February 1991 as experienced / perceived by the Prime Minister, by a Thai student engaged in postgraduate studies in Oxford (Fon), by her two British undergraduate friends (Dominic and Paul) and by a taxi motorcyclist in Bangkok (Jo).

Their reactions are radically different, and a major theme of The Otters and the Jackal is how the same public events and geographical terrain can evoke quite different views, attitudes, feelings and reactions on the parts of different characters. Paul's initially rather rose-tinted perception of Thailand is, for example, quite different from Jo's resigned despair and from Dominic's polished cynicism.

Questions to consider

(i) Does this variation in perceptions vindicate phenomenology, which regards consciousness, subjective emotions and intentionality as vital media through which we experience the world (as opposed to the Cartesian theory that the world is simply made up of sets of objects divorced from the human mind, individual feelings etc)?

(ii) Does it support Marxism, which might explain the differences between the different characters' views by linking these to their different socio-economic statuses (with Dominic's cynicism being the capitalistic expression of his commercial interest in expanding his father's antiques business and Jo's nihilistic despair resulting from his being the victim of economic exploitation)?

(iii) Does the novel leave any scope for Christian notions such as redemption or salvation (as attempted by different characters in various ways, which include reckless heroism, self-sacrifice, a Voltairean resolution urge to confine philanthropy to small, localised good deeds etc)?

(iv)  Does the course of the novel ultimately vindicate the Blakean dichotomy between innocence and experience? Or do the characters' radically different reactions to their respective experiences nullify any such a generalisation? Would it be fair to say that some characters are able to learn from their experiences and develop while others remain trapped in ruts from which they can never progress (existentially or spiritually)?

(v) Does the story's development ultimately confirm Dominic's initial cynicism about all religions?

(vi) The Otters and the Jackal has been described as "a meditation on the necessity and the impossibility of helping one's fellow human beings". Do you agree with this characterisation?

(vii) Does the unfolding of the story bear out the tapestry's warning?

(viii) By the end of the novel, would you accept that any of the following soubriquets can validly be applied to any of the characters?

  • Disillusioned idealist
  • Reformed cynic
  • Misguided fanatic
  • Manipulative hypocrite
  • Frustrated fantasist
  • Doomed hero
  • Dangerous dreamer
  • Malign schemer
  • Harmless eccentric
  • Reluctant saint
  • Unlikely warrior
  • Selfish altruist

(ix) Do any of the following Jungian archetypes appear in The Otters and the Jackal?

  • The child
  • The devil
  • The wise old man
  • Apollo
  • The trickster
  • The hero

Do any others appear?

(x) Jean-Paul Sartre once famously opined that "we were never more free than during the German occupation (of France during the Second World War)". He made this comment as an active left-wing, existentialist member of the anti-fascist Resistance, meaning that the hideous omnipresence of 'Nazi venom' imposed by the German Army obliged French people to make authentic choices (a process Sartre regarded as the essence of freedom).

Does the political volatility in Thailand against which The Otters and the Jackal is set provide similar opportunities for its characters?

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