Home >Mint-lounge >Features >Book Review: Shinie Antony’s The Orphanage of Words

The title of the book draws you in. Imagine a home for uncared-for words, where phrases and endearments that have been abandoned or left behind congregate. In Shinie Antony’s latest collection of short stories, The Orphanage For Words, the mind is where these words, now bereft of meaning they once held, wander and wail.

For a first-time reader of Antony, who has published two novels and three short story collections (besides being long-time editor to best-selling author Chetan Bhagat), the stories may seem dense. Indeed, the collection comes across as motley. In her bid to cover as much ground on this most esoteric of subjects, the author spins wildly from the death of a parent in Fathers to the crisis of not belonging in The Frock, in which a “frilly fuss of multi-tiered flounces in scarlet satin and ruffled silk" passes hands, unwanted and unloved. Break-up angst, rejection, marital infidelity, post-partum depression, abandonment issues, a lover’s forgetfulness are all summoned to showcase our modern-day existential dilemma: the short lifespan of meaning.

A few stories in the collection manage to do that quite well. In others, the author’s obtuse and heavy sentences get in the way of the point she is attempting to make. Take for example this from Hearts, in which the character, a woman, describes how she feels after her lover leaves her without just cause or explanation: “Heartbreak, she found, was on prepaid. Vampire bats dashed against her chin and chest, searching for her vein, her neck. Derailed, denuded, deluded, deserted, demolished, damsel in distress, and that was only D."

This sort of clunky description of emotion peppers the book and detracts from identification with the character, which is a pity since this book, ultimately, is a guide to urban malady and would resonate with its readers. Yet Antony, manages ever so often to also get to the nub of things with a sharp line such as, “Hope is a refined form of self-abuse."

What is interesting about the stories, however, is that the characters—flawed in a variety of ways—are presented without judgement. The first story, Girlfriends, is told from the perspective of a woman who has had an affair with a married man, and faces heartbreak when he leaves her. In Dog, a beautiful snippet of a story, a child aches for a dead dog in the building compound, his response a stark opposite of the reactions of the adults in his family and neighbourhood. In perhaps the most successful story of the collection, The Bitch, a new mother describes the schizophrenia of parenthood. Though married, she is left to fend for her baby and her “support" structure—her parents, her mother-in-law, and husband—fails spectacularly, and tragically, to understand what she goes through.

The book ends with a soliloquy on words, and in our opinion had one word too many. Perhaps fewer words would help convey the meaning far better, and to greater effect.

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our App Now!!

Edit Profile
My ReadsRedeem a Gift CardLogout