Baby doll

Book Review: Gracy’s ‘Baby Doll’

The women at the center of Gracy’s stories have all upended the status quo with their desire, fear and lust

Gracy’s ‘Baby Doll’; Harper Perennial, Rs 399, 244 pages

Gracy’s stories are set in a landscape of superstitions, haunted houses and yakshis. A thin, permeable film ripples between the real and the imaginary, and the writer moves as easily as mist from side to side. Sometimes she builds a world and events around her characters and sometimes her characters simply rage with envy, paranoia, fear and desire for a page or two, leaving emotional debris as jagged as the pieces of a broken window. Whether the turmoil is internal or external, much real violence is taking place.

The title story, “Baby Doll,” is perhaps one of the quietest of these tales, save for the melodramatic lamentations of a mother who wants to lock her daughter away from reality. The young girl has crossed the physical threshold of childhood, but her childish mind is not yet equipped for the risks of femininity on the other side. There is an allegory of two lizards on the wall of a hospital room, talking about life, death and enlightenment. The nugget of wisdom that the male imparts, discovered at such a high price, is a truth that the female lizard has always known and she hitches a ride in the outside world to discover something new. Gracy brings even inanimate things to life, creating a tragedy out of two rabbits made out of seashells. She plays with blasphemy in ‘The parable of the sower’ and in ‘Panchali’.

Just as compelling as the stories, readers often skim over the translator’s note and Q&A at the end. Fathima EV’s long note gives us some much-needed context. Gracy wrote concurrently with the rise of Pennezhuthu in Malayalam literature. Fathima describes Pennezhuthu as a “shared preoccupation with a woman’s point of view, agency, sensitivities, distinct ‘motherly’ language…” and staying away from politics or politics. ‘activism. This is emphasized in the translator’s note as well as in Gracy’s own words in the interview that follows.

She also embraces the loneliness of the female writer, a situation that seems almost quaint now, when writers are expected to hustle their own wares in an increasingly noisy marketplace instead of locking themselves away to write again.

Such a well-articulated ending entices the reader to go back and read all the stories again. Not so with footnotes, which are a clumsy intrusion. The shrewd reader will chase them away, and in each story will keep an eye out for the woman (or girl) at the center of the arena – whether innocent of the coming fight, or conscious but helpless, or armed and bloodthirsty.

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