by Kausambi Patra
Release Date: October 1, 2021
AM Muffaz started writing this concise novel 15 years ago to process a different trauma. She is facing difficulty in accepting that the beloved country of her childhood has changed into a problematic place that is not easy to question. The author deals with intergenerational trauma and the danger its poses. She wants to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness and cultural understanding. In the Introduction, she notes that Charles Darwin wanted to be a parson. But after his journey, he altered his and peoples’ thinking “to see change as beautiful.” The author aspires for that. The novel ‘Finches’ is strewn with quotes from Ayats and ‘The Origin of Species.’
Restless spirits flit around within the novel seeking something. Grandmother Jah deeply resents her husband Ghani’s second marriage, which is legal in Malaysia. She hates the couple with vehemence even after their unnatural deaths. She goes back to live in their family’s old home, claiming it as her own. She experiences ‘cold spots’ in the house and the unquiet spirits. She beats up her dead husband’s spirit and is spitefully uncivil to his wife’s spirit. During an exorcism, she stops the bomoh from forcing a ghost out of a room and locks the door.
The story follows a nonlinear narrative. It moves from one character to another and comes back again. In Rahim’s chapter, he faces the spirits in the old house. His meetings are terrifying, and he narrowly escapes violent harm.
From time to time, the story moves back to the past. The author paints beautiful images of a warm and cosy family enjoying themselves in their flowering garden with abundant refreshments and supporting each other. The children of the first wife seem to share relationships of trust and nurture with the second wife. But the fractures get exposed at times. The author stresses that the granddaughter and the new wife, Aisya, are the same age. Aisya is very good-looking and delicate, in sharp contrast to the granddaughter Khatijah. She is beautiful even more after her death.
The author has vivid flowing portrayals of the physical surroundings and poetic descriptions of everyday mundane activities and objects within the house. She goes into minute details and piques the interest of the reader –
There, the jars had clouded over, some bloodied red, the others opaque white. Her eyes were drawn towards a particular jar in the middle of the rack, whose curtain of white cleared when it had her focus. Inside, a milky-coloured mass curdled upon itself like a clot of grubs, wriggling limbs, she thought, as it rotated in place. From the centre of this clot, wrinkles unfurled like a flower, until, in the depths of its heart, it flicked open an eye. (Page 63)
The pickle jars were Grandmother Jah’s precious possession. The ‘cold spots’ manifest there and respond to her hatred. All the characters sense the ‘cold spots’ and the restive spirits as they gradually become violent and malicious. But the surviving family members are not scared. Instead, they grope for answers. They remain calm and composed and try to piece together their broken fragments.
Reading Muffaz’s words, one can almost see and touch the spirits and inhabit that house. But it is what they have left behind that the living is forced to deal with. Even when these people were living happily, there was the case of the chickens metamorphosing. This mirrors the undercurrent that erupts at the end. When Fatimah is forced to visit the house, the bougainvillaea claws her car.
The scratches ran as deep as the awful sound they’d made, making five broken lines from the side mirror to the handle, their ragged path edged with fine silvery powder. (Page 90)
The spirits, too, answer her hate.
Ghani and many of the characters are unable to accept the change around them, which pushes the gradual unfolding of the incidents. The house and its environment has soaked it all and rushes to its revelation in the climactic ending. The concluding chapters are left open for the reader’s interpretation.
I found the novel unsettling and the ghosts terrifying. I was scared for the family members living in that old haunted cottage. The narrative is about people trying to understand their past and surroundings and the resulting frictions. The author strongly feels that unless one adapts and faces reality, they face destruction. This short novel is wrapped in the author’s emotion.
Finches is available from Vernacular Books and comes out October 1, 2021. Purchase a copy wherever books are sold, including on Amazon.
Boring, not dark, not interesting. Do not recommend.
Fair plot, not too dark, fairly interesting. Read at own risk.
Good plot and mild darkness, good reading experience. Encouraged read.
Great reading experience with heaps of dark tone. Strong recommend.
Excellent prose, tons of dark tone. A MUST READ!