by Nuala Ní Chonchúir
is hard to define the twenty-first century short story; it has so many
guises: traditional, flash, experimental, magic realist. There is no
one firm definition that covers all the forms the story now has. It is
even harder to define the surprising short fiction written by Kuzhali
Manickavel – a writer born in Canada who has lived in India since the
age of thirteen. Manickavel’s stories are a mixture of odd, disjointed
flashes, surreal sketches, and more traditionally shaped tales which
possess a rare freshness. She is not afraid of the darker corners of
human experience and she uses a devilish humour which sits well with
the strange goings-on in her work. She says of her own work that her
themes are "isolation, dislocation, magic realism and
stories are typically set in India and involve obscure happenings and
cryptic conversations. In the one-page story Do You Know How to Twist With
Girls Like This?, Mira is slimming and is possibly
anorexic. Her friends "imagine her shaving down her shoulders and
ankles, breaking off what was extra and hiding it in suitcases under
her bed." This sort of observation is typical of Manickavel’s writing:
she revels in the quirky, left-of-field and impossible.
is a writer comfortable with exploring poverty and superstition, and
many of her characters seem to live aimless, drifting existences that
may or may not lead to trouble. In the fable-like story Ezekial Solomon’s Shoe,
Seshadri is haunted by the missing Ezekial whose insect-infested shoe
seems determined to stay and remind Seshadri of the absent man.
Seshadri resists at first but finally quietly embraces the shoe’s
presence as if it is Ezekial himself.
building up of detail to paint a complete picture is extraordinary: she
never chooses the pedestrian image, always the strange and wonderful,
often from nature: "The afternoon settles in the corners like bundles
of thick wool." "…her fists are perched on the table like tiny anxious
birds." "The Entomologist’s smile is a tiny half moon, weak and
incapable of casting any light." She is good, too, on the detail of
Indian food and landscapes; this adds an instant shot of authenticity
and an anchoring of her characters in real, believable places.
book itself is beautifully produced by the Chennai-based publishers
Blaft Publications; the text of the book is decorated with insects and
even the story titles are done in a spidery hand. Blaft hope to publish
South Asian authors exclusively at least for the near future.
Hearteningly, for other writers, they discovered Manickavel’s work
online and offered her a deal. The publishers might consider charging
more for the book than £4.95. It is wonderful value but it is
not in line with the normal cost of a paperback and I think readers
will happily pay more for such an accomplished, attractive
Manickavel is an original, competently carving out a niche for herself
in the short story genre. It is fortunate for the reading public that
Blaft have recognized her unusual and exciting talents, so that we all
might enjoy a trip into her surreal and wonderful worlds.
Read one of the stories
from this collection online in Subtropics.
lives in Galway, Ireland. Her bilingual poetry collection Tattoo:Tatú
(Arlen House, 2007) was shortlisted for the 2008 Strong Award. Her two
short fiction collections were also published by Arlen House. She is
fiction editor for Southword in 2008 and will represent Ireland at the
Tokyo International Poetry Festival in November. She blogs at
Publisher: Blaft Publications
born in Winnipeg, Canada, and moved to Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India,
when she was thirteen. She is widely published on the Internet and in
print magazines in the UK, Europe and the USA.
with Kuzhali Manickavel
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