Imagine a black & white world where each shadow struts like it is the only shadow in the world and refuses to be one with any other. There is a great shadow animosity reigning all over. Then there is another world where the sky is dark enough to make the shadows disappear into each other and then into the sky and yet, each shadow remains what it is. Both these worlds are the like the world of short stories. The latter is the one that comes nearest the concept of a composite novel where stories exist in close harmony with something or someone to link them all up into one wholesome novel. Calling a composite novel a ‘miraculous feat of story-telling’, the editor of Crossed & Knotted writes: ‘Each chapter can stand alone as a short story, yet all of them are arranged and are specifically composed to create a complete novel with a beginning, middle, and an end.’ This is one novel where the fourteen authors had to ‘pick up threads from the previous story and weave it into their story. This could be a conflict, a character, or an aspect of the plot.’
‘What if we live in a world full of colours?’ asked Specky, my wife, after reading my interpretation of a composite novel. I simply quoted from the novel: ‘It is a novel whose chapters are in distinct shades of vibgyor arranged to create the magnificent rainbow…’ and then added, ‘Well, you dabble in colour, obviously.’ Definitions are entirely up to us to formulate and everything depends on how fast and how unimpeded we let our imagination run.
Coming to the stories in this composite anthology, let me start with patting my own back by quoting Winged Post (http://wingedpost.org/2015/02/crossed-knotted-literary-review/) on the part that is written by me:
‘The merging of two cultures and the comparisons drawn are proofs of the ingenuity of Arvind Passey in ‘The real fiction of Illiana Braun’. The knowledge of the author on different cultures compels the reader to visualise the murky waters of the Ouse on the banks of which strolled Varu in his Scottish coat. Arvind is able to give the reader feelings of joy and premonition at the drop of a hat. The inclusion of the three witches reminds one of The Bard and his plays.’
I do ask the readers of this review to read the stories and see if the concept of a composite novel has worked or not. I think it has… and so does Siddhartha Basu, the Quiz master we know so well, who specifies that ‘each story is a unique adventure for the reader, yet criss-crosses and knots into the weave and weft of the next, each with a different design and texture, never predictable, always surprising, and yet quite a whole’. With such an endorsement, I need not even give you a bird’s eye view of what each story is all about or how well it manages to thrust into your mind and squeeze out the expected and the obvious to make you relish the unexpected with aplomb.
I remember getting completely absorbed in the diary of Joseph Varughese and almost expecting the unexpected twist because this is precisely how Sutapa Basu’s story that came in earlier has primed your subliminal process. I mean, you are still reeling with the thorough crime that the mild Sudip has just executed because what the protagonist there has accomplished has still ‘not sunk in’. And so we go on from one story to another expecting to be buffeted and thrown about and flung on to corners and spaces where nothing but the fabulous craft of story-telling resorts to ‘cooing, drooling, crying, and demanding antics’ to ensure that you neither sleep nor eat before you’ve actually finished reading the final word of the final story.
Each story is admittedly a battle waiting to escalate ‘into a global situation where the exact enemy was hazy’, is sometimes like a despondent Binoy who ‘battled her tears and giggled to cover them up’, or becomes a Kamu coming in ‘like a whirlwind and swoop down on’ sensibilities and make readers wonder at the wonder of stories that read as separate individuals yet connect to the others in the collection like glaciers in a region raising streams that come together finally as a majestic river flowing to yet another point of convergence!
There have been many times when I have read short stories in anthologies that made me sit up and wonder at the sheer length and breadth of emotions that they seem to interpret… but this composite novel does it in an entirely different way. You know you have a lock to be opened and you have a set of fourteen keys. You know each key is doing a particular job and you soon enough know that the lock would open once you’ve used all the keys given. The surprise is that you not only open this lock but also a number of other locks that are lying closed in your sub-conscious… yes, the stories slowly and surely ooze into the deepest layers in your conscious and unconscious self to unlock what has been lying discarded as you didn’t know what to do with those mysteries.
The stories, in short, are all solutions to mysteries of life and as you finish reading each of them you raise you head to mumble, ‘Here is another mystery solved!’ Yes, all those shadows riding on your being are finally swallowed by the sky that a composite concept like this one manages to create.
Title: Crossed & Knotted
Edited by: Sutapa Basu
Price: Rs 250/- (in 2015)
On Amazon: Crossed & Knotted
23 February 2015