magical realism

“Woman Fish” by Dorothy Tse

woman fish

Hong Kong writer Dorothy Tse’s stories are always a mixture of the surreal and magical realism. There is something dreamy yet frightening about them. A threat or unbelievable angst is always hiding behind her words, sometimes coming out onto the page and other times, being hidden away again.

“Woman Fish” is the first story in her recent collection Snow and Shadow (translated by Nicky Harman)–a collection I urge you to seek out. This story is only a small example of the strange you will find within the collection. Many stories deal with body parts mysteriously vanishing, a pregnant empress liquefying into the snow after giving birth, and an apartment building where the tenants can’t find their own front doors when they return home.

In “Woman Fish,” a sort of Gregor Samsa metamorphosis is happening,

“One morning he realised his wife’s sleek, pale head was completely without hair. Her mouth was huge, protruding like a ship cleaving the still waters of the sea. Her eyes had slipped to the sides of her face. Her breasts were two melting glaciers, slowly sinking into her body. When she walked naked towards him, all that was left of the woman were her smooth, muscular legs. Apart from that, she had transformed completely into a fish.”

The woman’s husband, whose point of view the story takes, is often in an inky dream state. The events are mostly at night, in dreams, or waking up. When he is awake, his wife is usually working at her computer making collages out of the husband’s “watery dreams.” There is constant mention of water and water that flows giving the story’s imagery an obscured view.

The frightening element of the story comes when they visit a Japanese restaurant and the husband notices the sharp knife the sushi chef uses to cut the fish filets. He can’t help but get anxious over the idea of his wife being sold at auction to a restaurant, an idea that floats around during his sleep. It doesn’t matter if the husband is awake or sleeping, the entire story feels like a waking dream and it would be foolish to try to distinguish the two. Just let the imagery of the story flood over you like the oft-referenced waters.

I highly encourage you to check out the collection where this story is found: Snow and Shadow. More info: amazon |  the book depository. The Guardian newspaper has also printed “Woman Fish” in its entirety with the accompanying fish eye photo above. Because this story is translated, it’s also being added to the International Reading List.

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