Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Book review: Shinie Antony's Séance on a Sunday Afternoon
Séance on a Sunday Afternoon derives its title from one of the 22 short stories that make up this collection. If I were to be asked to name this collection in a way that describes all the stories, I would go for “Mug shots, but not in a single afternoon.” Each of the 22 stories is a mug shot of a character or a situation. However the chances of you finishing them all in a single afternoon, Sunday or otherwise, is not very high. In fact, I would positively advice you to take a day’s break or even a two-day break, after you’ve read three or four of these stories. The reason is very simple. Each story in this collection deals with ordinary human beings undergoing issues and dilemmas and facing situations which millions of human beings face daily. Shinie Antony’s language is simple, stark, rapid and at times vulgar. The stories move fast, very fast. Feelings and emotions are mercilessly dissected and laid out bare for you to examine. Sometimes Shinie examines a character from very close quarters and sometimes from a distant vantage point. The topics for the stories deal with issues ranging from breast cancer, unfaithfulness, suicide, unemployment, marriage break-ups and the like. By the time you finish a story, a minor feeling of unease settles on you, maybe a small knot in your tummy, as if you have seen and heard something which you always knew existed, but hadn’t been able to put your finger on. You’ll need a little bit of time to internalise your new knowledge and sort your feelings before you go to the next story.
Sometimes you need to take a break in between a story. For example, when Shinie tells us, ‘I must have been two when my mother died, a dead foetus stringing her thigh,’ she is not telling us anything that we haven’t heard of. Death during childbirth is a possibility everywhere, all the more so in India. However, I took a few minutes to recover and move on after I read that sentence.
As mentioned earlier, it won’t be easy to read more than a few of these stories in one go. I took a week to read this collection and I must say that I enjoyed it thoroughly. All in all, this is a wonderful collection of very unusual short stories!