Anita Nair is a remarkable writer and a compelling storyteller. In her latest novel, ‘Eating Wasps’ she charts the tale of Sreelakshmi, a thirty – five year old writer who takes her own life and the women who touch her restless spirit, half a century after her demise, when her trapped soul is given release to wander in search of the stories that sustained her in life. It is a juicy premise, and in Nair’s hands it becomes something extraordinary, grabbing readers by the throat, plunging them into the depths of the feminine psyche with its myriad hues that run the gamut from the sublimely beautiful and inspiring to the sordid and shocking.
Flitting like a butterfly from one story to the other, Sreelakshmi and the reader get to know an array of memorable women. There is Urvashi who is a writer too and trapped within the confines of convention, struggling to find release for her nameless yearning, which prompts her to navigate the perils of a dating app that far from nourishing her with the fulfilment she seeks leaves her floundering in disappointment and worse. Little Megha is a precious ‘bommakutty’, doomed to discover that the monsters are real. When her tormentor after pulling her into the back of a truck “pulled down the tarpaulin flap rolled up to the roof of the truck” it is hard to choke down the scream building at the back of the throat. Najma’s tale is a harrowing one as a stalker dashes her dreams with a horrifying acid attack, leaving her with little more than her embattled spirit and the steely will not to give in to her fears.
There are others who face the conundrum Sreelakshmi herself did that of being damaged goods and the girl who ate a wasp, especially when life serves up unhappy experiences to compound an already miserable existence – “Would you spit or swallow? Would you crumple or fight?” The characters deal with the many headed hydra that is the internet which can label and shame one as ‘Pussy – Mouth’ for a moment’s silly indiscretion, online stalking, body shaming, terrorism and the constant, grinding pressure to conform to societal norms be they ever so suffocating.
Nair has a gift for telling stories that boast of the robust prose, muscle and sinew favoured by the author in this tale as well. Her characters are delicately sketched out and pulse with life as they leap off the pages into the consciousness of those who have gotten to know them so intimately. Whether it is a hate – filled, nightmare of a blind sister who feeds on her younger sister like a parasite or even, the long suffering mother of a disabled child, who is dangerously close to following through on her intention to take his life, these are folks who leave indelible imprints.
Ultimately though is it Sreelakshmi, who burrows into the head and heart with her tragic tale of discovery that “Ghosts and writers are more alike than you think.”This review was originally published by The New Indian Express.