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The mother of pearls

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Ananda Devi’s writing encircles like a black mamba snake. It invades. It strangles. It coils tightly and then lashes out with desire. In Eve out of Her Ruins, language is the story. Set to the backdrop of Troumaron, a terrible, aqueous underworld cut off from the high flying life of tourist Mauritius, Devi dredges up violence and sexuality. The novel contains four teen protagonists, who are surviving the terrors of Troumaron, a low income neighbourhood of Port Louis, by scrounging for meaning in its wretched realm of industrial effluence. The characters are pushed into darker worlds, stunningly wrought by Devi, and into insidious violence, into passionate and consuming love, rage, and towards calamity. The prose harbours this pain. “I don’t understand violence at all: it is there, everywhere.”

The protagonists are written in the first person and this allows for direct access to their thoughts and sensations; the intensity is unremitting. The voices are distinctive and wrenching. Eve trades her body to find her body. Saad obsessively loves Eve, and channels this through the poetry of Rimbaud. He is in a gang. Savita cares for Eve. Clelio, also a gang member, is rage, scowling at the system. The novel is fitting for an art film adaptation, its narrative sequences are fierce, and the visuals are both sumptuous and obscene. And like all good love stories the world is young, it is born and then it dies, it sputters love and spews universes.

The story is skeletal, tenuously held together, but it is lucid, the writing is erotic, and desire haunts throughout the book. The protagonists are all trying to escape. Eve from Troumaron. Saad into Eve. Savita is trying to save Eve. Clelio is waiting for his brother to take him away. However, it’s not the thrust of the narrative that creates movement in the story; instead, it is the cataclysms and reflections of the characters that achieve this.

Eve out of Her Ruins is a visually scrumptious world, but it has its restrictions. There’s a degree of surface fetishisation – Devi beautifies the sordid, aestheticising poverty and the Other, in an attempt to humanise it, but there remains a trembling distance, even when the characters are written about in the first person. This style constrains the characters. The monologues are pristine, there are no blips and glares, no inconsistencies, and this makes it resemble a sheen – captivating, but only from a distance, real life is messy, poetic at times, hideous at its worst, but mostly filled with the mundane. If Devi were to create boredom, this would allow respite and give beauty perspective; it would let life seep in. The pacing would be different, and yet at 17 everything feels as if it’s going at breakneck speed. Saad reflects about the culture of Troumaron, “We played at war until we found ourselves at war”. Lines such as these are a direct gateway into an interior world, but without tempered pacing, time for growth and pause, they sometimes appear as ornaments. Everything goes by too quickly.

The feminine has its own speed, its own time. Devi delves into primal femininity and how it can drive men insane. A femininity that enchants, bewilders, stupefies, annihilates, and creates the universe. Eve embodies this femininity, its powerful surges, its despair. And Eve doesn’t make it easy for Saad, who seems to be the only man interested in possessing Eve’s soul and not just her body, she tells him, “The day I say I love you to a man, I’ll kill myself”, but Saad’s love, dipped in poetry, is deranged, and he can’t help but objectify Eve, “The kind of body that could completely disappear into your own. That could be eaten.” The act of not being able to own Eve, but to only behold her from a distance, unhinges Saad, and he pours himself into words. But he errs, he assumes he can have both, “I want both: to write, and to have Eve…having only one is as good as nothing.” But Eve is not a woman to be had. We learn much about a man transfixed by the aura of femininity and the nature of the sensitive male artist. When Saad considers Eve’s words, how she would never tell a man that she loves him, he grasps a word that encapsulates her – grace. “If this grace is part of my possibilities, I thought, I can do anything.” But it is this possessive urge, this force to transform and to create, that fundamentally alienates Saad from Eve, and the distance is maintained, even when it is reduced to a space of a couple of centimetres. He seems convinced that he can tame her in the same way he does words, “Eve, I will bring you out of your ruins.”

The prose seems ready to collapse. It plunges, it plummets, it throbs, it courses, it shrieks, and all for Eve. Eve knows her power, “I made moonlight shine in the boys’ eyes.” Eve seeks her life’s limit, for when she passes the point of no return, she believes she will then learn who she is. But this limit is continuously further along the horizon. It is Savita, who is best equipped to save Eve, for she has glimpsed her loneliness, and concluded it was no different from death. Eve is suspicious of how Saad speaks of poetry, without feeling the poetry of women, “The poetry of women is laughter in this lost place, laughter that opens up a small part of paradise so we don’t drown ourselves.” That poetry is visible when Eve and Savita walk together; it is when they pretend to be twins, when they wear the same clothes and perfume. It is through this poetry that we escape Troumaron and enter love.

This passion is excruciating; it envelops, cascades, and drowns. But it is also madly creative and unstoppable. Pushing life to its limits is dangerous; something irredeemable is obliterated in the process. Devi’s Troumaron is a placeholder, a world marooned from itself, but hungering over Eve, her body and her femininity, which is the real site of the story. Eve senses that even the night is gluttonous, that it is trying to devour her. But it is when Eve finally reaches and crosses her own limits, is she finally set free. In turn, Eve creates Saad, and at 17 she makes a man out of him – he is ready to go to hell for her. By the end, wounds are anaesthetised. Eve is ready to teach the men who have hurt her, what hurt is. Eve owns her ruins.

Eve Out of Her Ruins
Author: Ananda Devi
Translator: Jeffrey Zuckerman
Publisher: Les Fugitives
UK Year: 2016
Price: £10.99

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