Wordcraft alone does not make it gripping
Reviewed by Pooja Dadwal

Revolt of the Fish Eaters
By Lopa Ghosh. HarperCollins.
Pages 261. Rs 299.

With Revolt of the Fish Eaters, debut author Lopa Ghosh presents a highly dystopian world, punctuated with the sounds and echoes of capitalism, the world of business and the scathing oddities of life. This collection of nine short stories plays on the precipice of naked truth and perceived reality. It portrays a fractured world to a possibly fractured audience. Be it the Chairman’s Mother, Siberia, Richest man in the world or Love Story of the Oysters, Ghosh manages to narrate stories that, in essence, are very disturbing to an average mind, yet are the thoughts that an average mind thinks.

What goes in Ghosh’s favour is her adeptness in penning down a web of words. Her wordcraft is good, even inspiring. In all of her short stories, she creates a highly vivid word picture that instantly catches and piques the interest of the reader. In Love story of the Oysters, she writes, "Over my plate of cold oysters who have died recently and still have the aura of death hanging over their virgin skins, I watch a plane go down through the white window frame of the restaurant."

Yet another example of her word mastery can be seen in The Lockout in which she goes on to say, "In those years, gray chimneys had risen fiercely into the nights, guarding the citadels of the steel city. When trains chugged in from dark sal forests and flooded villages, their lights were the first sign of welcome."

In stories like The Red Shoe and Corporate Affairs, one gets to read about the convoluted desires that are harboured in every heart, yet are seldom voiced. Ghosh almost nails this sentiment down in Love story of the Oysters with the line, "If glances and the quick films of fantasy running in the back of our minds were to be counted, we were a depraved bunch, indulging in daily orgies."

Now getting down to what doesn’t work in the author’s favour. Though rich in symbolism, the problem, if one were to use the word, with the novel is that it doesn’t permeate inside; all it does is hover in your mind space. You wait for it to sink in and become one with you but unfortunately that’s an experience you fail to have, until the end. The author is at her creative best in the final short story titled Revolt of the Fish Eaters, which is a remarkably told tale of a politically charged environment as seen through the eyes of a reporter with a flailing mind.

The first eight stories have plots and passages of great promise yet sadly as a whole do not satisfy. The novel, which is haunted by a line-up of peculiar characters that includes a mother who returns as a ghost, a footless whore and a mother who tries to use witchcraft to land herself the world’s richest man, somehow turns out to be a jerry-rigged performance of pseudo-intellectualism.

"Briefly, that summer, I belonged," so says the protagonist in Ghosh’s Revolt of the Fish Eaters in the short story of the same name. And these words reflect and summarise the effect of this collection of short stories on its readers. Briefly, for some moments in time, you belong in the novel and the novel belongs in you, but mostly it’s a miss.