The High Priestess Never Marries is a short story collection with 26 stories about love, desire, and as the cover says, consequence. The stories contain all kinds of characters but they have one thing in common, they are all unable to commit completely to something or someone. The characters are mysterious, anomalies in this society, and they are flighty, making them all the more attractive.
Sharanya Manivannan is a poet first. Her poetry collection, Witchcraft, released in 2008 and she’s actually been commissioned to write and recite a poem at Commonwealth Observance day in London (2015). So you can imagine how high my expectations were for this book. And it blew by them so fast I sat reading and smiling and sighing like an idiot the entire time.
You have no idea how hard it is to eloquently review a collection that has left my heart satiated. “Oh this was such a beautiful read.” Are the words I kept repeating each time I came across a particularly lyrical line or an unreasonably insightful paragraph. So please bear with me while I repeat my words over and over again.
Her stories range from hardly one page long to 30 plus pages long but don’t let the shortness of some of these stories fool you into thinking they are any less impactful than the longer ones. Each story contains a journey within it and each one will appeal to a different side of you. She takes the most ordinary things like chopping bitter gourd, boiling milk for filter kaapi, pouring out dosai in the morning and makes it sound deliberate and luscious. It fills you with this desire to watch someone perform these tasks and see the poetry in them.
Being of Tamil descent, these stories are filled with colloquialisms that you may not understand if you aren’t from Tamilnadu or if you aren’t familiar with the language. She unapologetically writes these words down without explanation of what they are at the bottom of the page or the back of the book. It may seem like a negative but they take this to another level. Other words you will understand if you are Indian; for instance, in Conchology, “That b***h, Speaks as though she has 7 ½ on her tongue.”
The stories are similar, with themes of love and loss and despair and finally resignation but none of them are repetitive. In Gigolo Maami she makes you feel for both of them, the man dutifully making her breakfast and her for dismissing him. Cyclone Crossing is like watching a pot boil over and overflow and knowing there is nothing you can do about it. Her letters from Pondicherry have a certain depth that is very much needed in Indian short story collections.
This is a collection of her loves, be it Sri Lanka, the beach, Chennai, nature or food. Her words are lyrical and her stories memorable. Like with all collections there are a couple of stories that I didn’t enjoy as much as others, I’m not a fan of erotica and it certainly has a sprinkling of it. But it is very classily done and since I don’t even remember which stories I didn’t enjoy now I won’t talk about them. All I have to say is this, buy this collection. You will fall in love with it just like I did.
Her poetry collection, witchcraft, isn’t readily available right now but I believe she’s having another collection of poetry published next year. I can’t wait to grab that. Till then you can find her poetry online here.
A Sri Lankan mermaid laments the Arthurian Fisher King; a woman treks to a cliff in the Nilgiris with honey gatherers of the Irula tribe; a painter fears she will lose her sanity if she leaves her marriage and lose her art if she stays faithful within it; one woman marries her goddess; another, sitting in a bar, says to herself, ‘I like my fights dirty, my vodka neat and my romance anachronistic.’The women in this collection are choice makers, consequence facers, solitude seekers. They are lovers, vixens, wives to themselves. And their stories are just how that woman in the bar likes it – dirty, neat and sexy as smoke.
*I as very kindly provided a review copy but opinions expressed are completely my own.