This is a short return to the setting of her novel NW, about Northwest London. I liked the novel a lot when I read it for reasons I can’t entirely explain, but my throughline is how well she represents a number of different characters and their voices and experiences in a way that doesn’t feel pandering. A kind of writerly conservatism that allows her to understand form and language in traditional ways, and a more personal liberalism that allows her to understand representation.
This short return is about the sudden appearance of the Embassy of Cambodia in an otherwise suburban-ish neighborhood and how that appearance challenges the residents’ understanding of the world.
So, the British empire has been reckoning with the ways in which their economy and government has been built on the backs of empire for hundred of years. This is an implicit part of Mansfield Park, writ liminal by Edward Said in his book Culture and Imperialism, but the 20th century, especially post-WWII has changed the form of this questioning. England’s role in Vietnam and Cambodia are limited, but still important, but what this story focuses on is how you can observe an embassy for a wartorn country (presided over by an authoritarian and genocidal dictator). It’s always been the case that one can leave a warzone and go somewhere that’s not one (at least in terms of physics, if not agency) and so the idea that your country can be in a state of peace while somewhere else in the world is going through an apocalypse is not new. And when your country is responsible for that is also not new. But the latter half of the 20th century has fully cemented the idea that not only can this happen, you can basically visit that apocalypse by plane within 12-24 hours almost anywhere in the world, something our ability of conceive has never fully reckoned with. I think this breakdown on what is conceivable and what is understandable is at odds. This story takes this on in a very small way.