It has been a while since the day job has allowed me time to read and review a speculative short story. And just as I put away the school year for the summer, I read “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen in Nightmare Magazine, a publication that promotes stories of horror and dark fantasy. The story expertly plays with many of the academic forms of writing I know well and teach on a regular basis. It also slyly questions many of the problematic constructs and foundations of western academia itself. As such, it is both subtle satire and sincere narrative at one and the same time.
I love–love–the framework of this story. I am a sucker for a story conceptualized as an annotated bibliography. I also love stories that are meta, that play around with commentary as story (a reason I am a huge fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as well). Such texts play with the very idea of how we consume narrative.
The prose of this is precision itself, shifting voice and tone to match the varying types of sources: the ornateness of turn-of-the-century research (“the regrettable happenings at Churchill Academy”), the condescension of theory (“the maternal semiotic”), and the familiarity of popular websites (“who among us hasn’t sometimes had a craving to eat the whole damn world?”).
A beautifully-constructed and thoughtful piece.