Book: Eating Wasps
Author: Anita Nair
Publisher: Context (Westland Publications)
Price: Rs. 599
When award-winning writer Sreelakshmi commits suicide, she believes her life to end there. But, in a strange turn of events, a part of her is whisked away to be cherished and eventually forgotten. When fifty-two years later she emerges to a world that is peculiar to her in every which way, she is dragged into the lives of several women; their stories keeping her alive in a strange way. Eating Wasps is the story of a writer, a mistress, a child, two sisters, a badminton player, a mother, a wife and a divorcee. And they all have one thing in common-desire; some the perpetrators, some the victim.
Now, where do I begin? How do I dissect a novel that is so unusual in its narrative that its nothing like anything I have ever read before? And the strangest part is that I realised the peculiarity of the novel only on the last page. The book began like all books with a captivating opening line do- it had me hooked and madly devouring it at 3 am. The looming suspense prevented me from keeping the book down; it had me gasping and often, my skin crawling. Until just over half of the book, when monotonicity sank in.
The book is more of a collection of short stories that are interwoven, with the characters no more related than two passersby on the road (here, a resort in Kerala) Each of Nair’s characters is a powerful woman who has a compelling tale to recall- tales that changed their lives for the better or for the worse (the latter in most cases) All of these stories are rooted in desire, and while some showcase how the women evolved through the adversity, others show their downfall. All these characters, be it Sreelakshmi or Urvashi who has just left her house or Najma who is an acid attack survivor, have been portrayed with all their flaws intact. The characters are as real as it gets; you would have come across a Rupa or a Markose or a Molly and Thomasina. The character that most stirred my emotions was the six-year-old Megha, whose innocence drove home her pain.
This was the first time I read Anita Nair and I was spellbound by her writing. Her words have the power to move and shatter her readers and had me holding on to her each word like dear life. I loved the analogies she drew, like that of a ghost and a writer:
Ghosts and writers are more alike than you think. We can be what you want us to be. We csn hear your thoughts even if you don’t tell us. We can read the silences and shape your stories as if they happened to us. And I was both: a ghost and a writer.
If you have read my reviews before, you will know how much I love book titles that are shrouded in mystery. Those titles that will slowly reveal its meaning to you as you read through the books are what impresses me the most -like The God Of Small Things. After knowing the significance behind Eating Wasps, I don’t think the book could have had a more fitting title. Kudos to Nair for this!
What disappointed me about the book was that, despite having such a brilliant start and so much potential to be a great read, somewhere in the second half of the book, the writer faltered. For instance, though the characters where spectacular, after a point, it felt like there were just too many that were not even necessary. For example, the sisters Thomasina and Molly, or Liliana, whose relevance I failed to understand, as they were just barely there. And when I finished the book, it felt like there were too many loose ends. Nair does not tell us what happens to most of the characters in the end. I wanted to know what happened to Megha or Brinda or Maya. I was so furious at her for offering me a full-fledged meal, but only letting me have the starter. But now when I look back, I guess that is what makes this book a unique read.
Eating Wasps by Anita Nair, in all its unusualness, is a heart-wrenching read that will move you and often break you. Like most of the characters in it, the book is not perfect. But trust me, this is one of those books that will leave you with so many questions and refuse to leave you even when the last word is said and forgotten.
Story – 3.5/5
PS: I received a copy of the book from Vivek Tejuja and the publishers in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.