Fragile Monsters by Catherine Menon
Fragile Monsters is an immersive act of escapism, but some of its story threads lack resolution
Durga’s grandmother Mary is a difficult woman, so when Durga visits her in rural Malaysia for Diwali she only hopes to see the trip through without major fallout before returning to her life as a university mathematics lecturer. Unfortunately, fire and floods combine to make that impossible. One thing Mary has always excelled in as a grandmother is storytelling, but Durga’s now beginning to notice the holes in her plots.
Alternating between the present day and snapshots of Mary’s childhood, life through WWII, and Malaysia’s struggle for independence, familial tales are at the core of this expansive, atmospheric debut novel from Catherine Menon. The tension between Durga and Mary is often foregrounded by the fluidity of their familial history as Mary tells it. The lines between reality and storytelling are blurred, challenging Durga’s very sense of her family identity as Mary refuses to stick to one version of a story. In exposing this inherent untrustworthiness, Menon explores the ways in which recounting family histories is akin to mythmaking: when you can no longer rely on eyewitnesses, who left can untangle history from fiction?
For those enamoured by character and setting, Fragile Monsters can be an immersive act of escapism. Though, for a narrative so concerned with the act of storytelling, those spurred on by plot may be left deflated given the lack of resolution in so many of this story’s threads.