Friday, 7 December 2012

Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel (4/5)

The back says: A centipede in a shoe, revelations in a shoebox, nosebleeds, exploding women, and a dead mouse named Miraculous populate this collection of thirty-five short stories by one of India's most original young writers.

I say: I can’t remember how or where I came across this title, but I do remember thinking that that anyone who would come up with a title like that deserves to be read.

So I bought it, read it, and loved most of it.

This collection of short stories is probably easiest described as softly dreamlike with elements of the absurd. The prose is beautiful, captivating, and very witty. Manickavel has a way of lulling you into a story and then suddenly drop in an element of absurdity or humour that’ll have you re-reading the sentence/passage to make sure you understood it correctly. But it never feels contrived; you just sort of ponder it for a second and then tell yourself that of course he keeps his twin brother that didn’t survive birth in a jar – why wouldn’t he!?

And I love that.

Sometimes I didn’t really understand what Manickavel was trying to say, and that is the main reason why I rated this 4/5. I understand that an element of the absurd is the very illogicality of it, but I still like some type of coherence. For instance:

“I tried to think of things we had done, things we were capable of doing. I wondered if I should try and be sick again but I had a feeling I would only cough up lost children and bags filled with dead kittens.” – p 112

Say what?

But then she twists it around and ends the story with the achingly beautiful:

“I closed my eyes and watched as the sun slowly ground its heels into my eyelids.”

All of the stories are set in India and reading them makes me once again promise to read more Asian literature. The insects make often strange cameos in these stories, but like I said, it works. It’s a lyrical and strange journey that I look forward to experiencing again in the future and, of course, more of Manickavel’s work.

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