Table Manners is an insatiably wrought collection of unflinching short stories from a writer who is telling the world how it is, and is unapologetic in her approach.
It’s fierce writing, whilst also being poignant, but the overall feeling that I get from Bhattacharya is that she is fearless in her writing, and this is shown by the themes and topics that are traversed in Table Manners. A brave and accomplished collection, which gives a voice to the voiceless and hope for the hopeless – delivered from a unique and inspiring voice – and a voice I couldn’t get enough of, it was a shame when I closed the cover on this wonderful collection.
Table Manners and discovering Susmita Bhattacharya has been a real highlight of my reading and reviewing so far this year. Table Manners is a brave collection, with Bhattacharya delving into some very topical themes, and situations which in my opinion rarely get to see the light of day (whether this is due to their themes or from the social reprisals from the person detailing their plight or situation) – Bhattacharya sheds the spotlight on things we do well to hide in the shadows or put in a box, but having said that, with her unique voice, delectable prose and superb wit – Bhattacharya enables us, the reader to engage on these subjects and delve into these lives and the little un-uttered secrets held herein, which is as arresting as it is engaging.
The stories make up Table Manners are a triumphant declaration and celebration of culture, a collection that is as humorous as it is beautiful – constructed and told from a unique and deftly refreshing voice. There are not many topics that are off the menu and this ensures that Table Manners is a smorgasbord of delights which you can’t help but gorge yourself on.
At times Bhattacharya transported me with ease from the comfort of my home to live amongst the lives, stories and cultures of her cast of characters, enabling me a way to experience life through a different lens – what more can you ask of a writer, but to do such things!
Each story added subtle layers to a delightful banquet, it’s a collection about the human condition, about how we are all different but are the same, that we all struggle with the same thoughts, feelings, inadequacies and fears – that we all wish for the same things and hope to encounter small blessings along the way.
There are so many stories I enjoyed, such sumptuous fiction as Good Golly Miss Molly, The Summer of Learning, After She Was Gone, The Taste of Onion on his Tongue (which was another of my favourite stories) and the quite stunning title story Table Manners – each one an exploration into the human condition, dealing with emotive subjects such as inadequacy, loneliness, grief, loss and longing. I would do a disservice to the book if I elaborated on these stories too much in this review, so I would urge you to pick up this vibrant and soul enriching collection and be forever changed.
Table Manners is published by Dahlia Books and is available here.
Susmita Bhattacharya was born in Mumbai. Her short fiction has been widely published, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her novel, The Normal State of Mind, was published in 2015 by Parthian (UK) and Bee Books (India). It was long listed for the Words to Screen Prize by the Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI). She teaches contemporary fiction at Winchester University and also facilitates the Mayflower Young Writers workshops, a SO:Write project based in Southampton.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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Shallow Creek Paperback
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