Eating Wasps: Book Review by Asha Seth

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Author: Anita Nair| Genre: Indian Fiction, Contemporary | Pages: 255

The Plot:

In a small town by the river Nila, a thirty-five year old writer kills herself. No one knows why. Fifty-two years later, an antique cupboard in a private resort opens to reveal a frightened child. And the mystery begins to unravel. An unusual new novel about the intensity – and consequences – of desire.


The Review:

This is the story of Sreelakshmi. But it is also the story of Megha, Urvashi, Maya, Liliana, Sisters – Theresa and Thomasina, Brinda, Najma. Their lives, their decisions and the choices they made, and what led them all to Sreelakshmi, the award-winning writer, the one-who-committed-suicide writer, the ghost of Sreelakshmi; the secret-keeper of their darkest stories.

Sreelakshmi has always lived life on her own terms. She is quite a rebel but when she falls in love with Markose, there is nothing she would not bend to, to be with him. But deceit is the last thing on her mind. And when it comes knocking at her door, she is shattered and death is the only escape from the series of disappointments that have clouded her life for a while now.

I scraped my face into the semblance of a smile as I walked through the gate. My mother was in the front yard, looking at the bitter-gourd creeper and telling Karthu to add wood ash to the roots. Everything that had happened to me seemed like it had happened to someone else. I had no more agency or standing than that of a voyeur.

Sreelakshmi’s story is heart-warming and heart-breaking, all at once. Her story is perhaps, the mirror to many a lives that live in condensed silences for all of their live. One minute you feel yourself soaring high with her resolute determination, the other minute you are falling, sinking, then buried deep in a pit of melancholy.

Young love does not distinguish between the hunger of the body and the spirit. One feeds off the other with a natural ease and an insatiable appetite. But as the years go by, the intimacy unravels bit by bit, until everything you do together leaves a residue of dissatisfaction, coating words and kisses.

So are the stories of the other women; stories that form the subplots within the plot; which tends to get confusing but the essence is never lost on the reader.

Anita Nair has a way with her words and I admit, how much I admired her from the eloquent diction she employs to tug at the hearts of her writers. There are words that I came across for the first time and as a reader and writer, I love getting introduced to new words.
Words such as voyeur, sangfroid, totemic, leitmotif, to name a few.

How she made me run with my mind and heart after each of her characters was quite incredible. You are not only listening to their stories but living them too. That’s the power of Nair’s vocabulary. After, Sreelakshmi, I loved Urvashi for her struggles in an extra-marital affair, and then, my heart went out to Maya’s miseries.

But she felt a crack appear each time a stranger eyed her 95-kg son as if he was an ungainly animal, a baby hippo perhaps. Mostly they turned the other way when she spotted them staring at him. But if it was an acquaintance, the voice would ring with a “Hello Naveen!” Unnatural, syrupy sweet and laden with false emotion: ‘Let’s show Maya that we are blessed with a benevolence of heart, and how much we feel for her.’ Sometimes she felt as though she couldn’t bear to go on any longer.

Even as I write this review I wonder why I rate this book a four when some other books, with comparatively fresher stories or intriguing plots got rated a three. I could attribute that to Nair’s subtle style that acts as a bait and you fall for it knowing full well that she ain’t gonna let you off. Not that easily. But you don’t mind!

Once after I helped myself to the kanji we have for dinner every night, I dropped half a bottle of salt into what was left in the vessel. I am a blind woman. Such accidents are bound to happen. I thought it was time she tasted some of the salt from all the tears she had made me shed.

That said, it was a battle between four stars and five stars and what it lost to, was the lack of empathy that Sreelakshmi’s mother could have portrayed and that could’ve helped her character survive. But I also think that then this book would’ve never happened. But whatever!

If you happen to read ‘Eating Wasps’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.

©Asha’s Blog