I wonder if the winged ones mock the non-winged ones...

I wonder if the winged ones mock the non-winged ones…

“The minute Malathi takes charge, the universe begins to sing her name like it is something holy.”

I lack the wanderlust gene that seems to have been bred into almost everyone else of my generation. While my sister is currently trekking across Australian deserts and one of my best friends is glamping her way around southern Europe, I am pretty content in my English environment (although I have just been to Scotland, which is beautiful enough and right on the doorstep). However, none of this means that I have been idle. In the books I’ve read so far this year, I have so far visited America, Germany, the Netherlands, Egypt, the Discworld, Polynesia, Greece and now, I find myself in India.

Last time I visited literary India, it was with The God of Small Things, a novel that won the Booker Prize but, as far as I could tell in the quarter I read before envisioning shoving it in some undisclosed orifice of my university lecturer, has very little merit at all. This time I was back with the lengthily-titled Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings, a title that proves even more problematic for a blog when you’re like me and like writing long sentences anyway.

Pause for a breath. I’ll try and shorten them from now on.

Insects is thirty-five short stories by Indian-American author Kuzhali Manickavel who apparently has a very beautiful mind that can produce some startling images. The stories vary in length from a couple of paragraphs to a maximum of ten or eleven pages, meaning these are very much slice of life stories. In a lot of them, very little is happening. Someone carries a coconut, someone treads on a bug, a door gets stuck. There is rarely if ever any explanation for the bigger picture, instead just focusing generally on the minutia of life.

The stories share some links in that I think all of them reference an insect at least once, or involve insects in some way, and a lot of them have the characters experience very vivid dreams. Some of the stories are more bizarre than others, but the strangest is probably “Some Singular Event” which involves a Captain, someone trying to take a photo of the colour red, and the mention that the characters have been falling for over two weeks. Falling where, why or how is never explained.

Some of the stories I liked more than others, but like a sketch show, anthologies do tend to be a bit hit and miss. “The Sugargun Fairy” is redeemed by the single line, “[E]veryone must keep a box of things they don’t understand and can’t throw away” which I adore, and agree with. The other story I bookmarked was the brilliant “Information Regarding The Two Main Characters”, which is exactly what it says on the tin. No one is named, just labelled Character 1 and Character 2 and they are described not in terms of appearance or even personality particularly, but, for example, in what one of them keeps on the dashboard of his car or the other’s collection of imaginary diseases.

I’m finding it really hard to get a grip on what makes this book so captivating, because despite its length (139 pages) it did grab me. The meaning and magic is as ethereal and hard to pin down as the insects in the title. There’s a charm in the ordinary, even if sometimes it seems that there’s much more than that going on in these stories.

Ultimately, I found the book interesting, very beautiful, but almost entirely incomprehensible.

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