Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha: The bloody tampon demons

 

Yellow and blue

But how Yin Yin longed for her plunge . Sweetie saw everything, from the sweet little girl’s eyes to her heart-shaped lips. Yin Yin was so lonely there, reduced to a flawless display, a source of pride. She didn’t want to be a showpiece; she like darkness and wanted to sleep with the devil. She wanted to kill herself.
And above all, she despised having her feet bound.

 

Apple & Knife is a Neo Gothic feminist short story collection by Indonesian author Intan Paramaditha focused on fairytales. Although this book may not be long, it certainly leaves an impact. Fairy Tales both local and from around the world are retold for the benefit of previously shunned female ghosts and stepsisters, like the first story in the collection ‘The blind woman without a toe’.

Comparisons to Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber however seem reductive as Paramaditha more comfortably resides in the neon coloured and kitsch inspired feminist horror, which Angela is not. Nonetheless if you are a fan of Carter you will most certainly enjoy this collection, as the differences only serve to add to an ever widening space of feminist storytelling.

The thing with short story collections is that they always provide an uneven reading experience. The writing remains consistent and they are collections for a reason, there is a unifying theme, they are dealing with similar issues; however, separate stories they remain, and their appeal will therefore vary. In the same way that we do not love an author’s every book in the same way, equally short story collections are inevitably inconsistent to some degree. Apple & Knife is no exception.

Meat

The first story ‘The Blind Woman without a Toe’, is one of the most accomplished of the collection. To a western reader such as myself it also helps that its familiarity promotes ease of interpretation.

You would do well to know, child, that this world is filled with poorly fitting shoes that only accommodate the mutilated.

Contrary to some fiction ( I’m looking at you Revenge by Yoko Ogawa ), the plot and the writing are straightforward and transparent, at times almost to the point of being on the nose ( like Where the Wild Ladies Are by Matsuda Aoko). And yet the real beauty of the stories is is how certain lines sneak up on you and punch you in the face. These lines will stay with you long after you’ve put Apple & Knife down; they elevate the stories from merely dizzyingly entertaining to truly insightful and thought provoking.
The reason I believe this to be so fundamental is that particularly when reading about our own experiences writing truly hits home when we can’t help but think “this said exactly what I have always felt and yet have never been able to put into words”. Much like that one article that proves that men rarely read women and yet women read both men and women, you’ve always thought that, but never been able to prove it.

As with many fairytales we are familiar with, some of these stories have a strong moral undertone that leads the narrative and yet unlike stories from your childhood these never appear overbearing, and instead seem shockingly persuasive thanks to her impressive writing and the copious amount of blood.

Navigating the Stories

Some of the short stories fell short for me, such as ‘vampire’. Some were masterpieces both in plot, premise and writing, such as ‘the obsessive twist’, others still such as ‘The porcelain doll’, were saved by her extremely evocative endings and fantastically double edged prose, while the meat of the story fails to hold your attention. Some stories are simply lost on me such as ‘The Well‘.

For the faint hearted ‘Beauty and the Seventh Dwarf’ is perhaps the hardest to stomach, as it deals with rape and the male desire to hurt and be hurt in such an aggressive and grotesque manner that it’s hard to wash away afterwards.

In ‘ The porcelain doll’, the authors take on how we see how we can only triumph over the weight of society’s expectations of women and girls through destruction and violence, the ending must be absolute. Victory is annihilation .

Seasons

I found that while reading this book I only really gravitated towards it at night, and reading any of the stories during the day, with the sun shining outside was anticlimactic, it somehow took something away from the atmospheric writing. This might be because the subject matter is dark, however I didn’t have this experience with Mariana Enriquez’s short story collections, perhaps because they were much more firmly horror, more outwardly scary and less prone to humour.

Last thoughts

The women are both supernatural and not, the line between goddess and ordinary woman is almost unimportant as in ‘The Queen’. All the women in these stories share one fundamental characteristic that sets the tone for this gothic feminist aesthetic, they are utterly unapologetic. The supernatural doesn’t happen to them, it is them.
Overall what will stay with the reader is how the writing manages to be both smooth and striking writing. The storylines both evocative and darkly humorous while they exposing truly bleak realities. Though the stories may be uneven, some will be so good that they will make up for any that didn’t really hit right.

Rachel Hill wrote a review that’s hard to top so check it out.

After this read I will definitely be paying attention to Brow Books.

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