Book Review: Eating Wasps by Anita Nair

She is among the handful of contemporary Indian writers to bring out the best in her female characters. Anita Nair knows what her women want and how they are going to get it.

She is among the handful of contemporary Indian writers to bring out the best in her female characters. Anita Nair knows what her women want and how they are going to get it. So when the author of popular books like Ladies Coupe, Mistresses and Idris: Keeper of the Light came out with her latest title, Eating Wasps, it didn’t take much to guess what would be inside.

Taking a break from her much-loved fictional character Inspector Gowda from the popular noir series, Nair has painstakingly woven a novel that is reflective of desires and passion, and living a life with no regrets.

The book starts with the suicide of a writer and how her soul resurfaces many years later in the form of a calcified finger found locked in a cupboard. For this, Nair took inspiration from the 1965 suicide of Rajalakshmi, a writer from Kerala who killed herself—the reasons remain unclear till date. Nair’s prologue is based on this premise, building up the plot succinctly.

Told in the voice of the dead narrator, a ghost who doesn’t find closure and wanders aimlessly, the story takes you back and forth in time. It talks about the time when women had to fight to study in a university to the present day when even married women hook up on dating apps.

Besides the narrator Sreelakshmi, there is another protagonist called Urvashi, a “happily married” journalist with grown-up children, who joins a dating app for some fun, but gets sucked into a possessive relationship. These two women, strong-willed and living (and even dying) on their own terms, show the reader the complexities of life and how they choose to not succumb to societal pressures. Rather than live a life bereft of love or the way her family wants, one protagonist opts for suicide, while the other chooses to walk out of a possessive relationship without yielding to the pressures of her lover’s threats.

Eating Wasps also lends a voice to some supporting characters—it has eight more female characters—who provide a perfect balance to the passionate lives led by the two protagonists. Their roles are of immense value, be it the little Megha, who has been a victim of child sexual abuse, or the acid attack survivor, or even the two sisters whose lives are intertwined by a cruel fate.
Some stories try to offer a glimpse of the deep-rooted evil of our society through common tales that you may have heard long ago and forgotten. These are stories that come in passing, but work well in tandem with the main tale, which makes Eating Wasps such a joy to read.

Nair has perfected the craft of writing her female characters. They come across as next-door characters and look as if they emerged effortlessly from the author’s pen, but mind you, these are no stereotypes. She builds up her characters in such a way that despite Sreelakshmi’s suicide, she emerges a winner. The characters stay with you long after the novel is over and you wonder how life would have shaped up for them if they had chosen different paths.

Eating Wasps is neither a light read nor a tome, working as a collection of short stories that move casually from one chapter to another, keeping the reader hooked. It is part-sad, part-fun, part-revelatory and part-obscure, but on the whole, it’s a novel that you won’t regret picking up.

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