The High Priestess Never Marries by Sharanya Manivannan – Stories of Love and Consequence

20th January, 2017

The High Priestess Never Marries by Sharanya Manivannan

The women portrayed in this collection are fearless, fiesty and find it liberating to value and respect their personal choices. Complete with Sri Lankan mermaids, wives, artists and lovers, The High Priestess Never Marries is an eloquent collection of short stories.

Review

To be frank, it is the title of the book that drew me to this collection of short stories – The High Priestess Never Marries. There is something in the rhythm of the phrase that makes one curious about what the book is about. This is a collection of 26 stories of love, desire and consequence, as said on the cover. The stories range from flash fiction, short fiction and longer short stories (I hope that makes sense. Something in-between a short story and novella).

If I were to use one phrase for the whole collection, it would be “an epitome of feminist awakening” . The women in High Priestess Never Marries are those who choose their lives for themselves. There are stories of lonely women, wives, widows, unfaithful partners and goddesses. There are stories that throw questions at the institution of marriage. There is a clever spiritual interplay of the supernatural (or sometimes sacred symbolisms) that lend a beautiful hue to some stories. Sharanya’s writing shows a deep understanding of local beliefs and folk tales woven into the main narrative. The men in the stories are not side lined in any way- they are well rounded characters, but a fiery aftertaste of womanhood remains after reading the book

The stories are mostly set in Chennai and there are colloquial usages, Tamil phrases and local nuances that appear in the writing. These are not italicized or explained. I was able to understand the context of the whole story. Readers with zero knowledge of Tamil might find it a bit difficult to grasp the meaning of all the small details, however they will be able to get the bigger picture.

The High Priestess Never Marries by Sharanya Manivannan

It would be unfair to state what is Sharanya’s strongest quality as a writer. In some stories it is the atmosphere that she creates, in some it is the allegory she presents, and in some it is the passionate expression of the feminine spirit. All stories flow with a lyrical tune – poetic and charming. The stories have a sensual charm and the author is unapologetic about her characters. Be it writing about a simple task of boiling milk or be it penning down the freedom that comes with sexual liberation, Sharanya has an iron grip on the pen.

Final Verdict :

I am very pleased with the experience of reading this book. The stories feel connected by their theme and spark a feeling of familiarity or nostalgia in the reader as he/she moves on to the next story. Which is why I have not highlighted any stories in this review. Each one is familiar to the next, yet they boast of a distinct voice unseen in the previous stories in the collection.

You can get a feel of the stories in the collection by reading The High Priestess Never Marries (Out of Print Magazine. Sharanya is also a poet. Read her poems here.

Title : The High Priestess Never Marries
Author : Sharanya Manivannan
Publisher : Harper Collins
Published : 2016
Language : English
Pages : 296
Rating : 3.5/5

Much thanks to Harper Collins India and the author for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

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The High Priestess Never Marries
This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. This sounds right up my alley! I’ve really been into short form lately. Essays, short stories, and flash fiction are all things I’m gravitating towards. As the leader of a feminist book club, this also might be right up our alley.
    Great review, Resh Susan. I particularly appreciate that you point out how those with zero knowledge of Tamil might struggle with some nuance. I will let you know how that goes. 😉

    1. I would not necessarily say that. I think the collection is more about women being subject to the choices others make for them and in the end realising that they can make their own choices (be it good or bad) as long as they are ready to face the consequences. It is more of a woman-centric collection. But the setting is Indian, mostly the South of India, which adds a charm to the narrative by means of cultural references, spiritual references, colloquial usages etc.

  2. I don’t normally read many short stories, but these do sound lovely. I love the idea of the women coming to the realization that they can make their own choices in life, for better or worse. It sounds rather empowering in that sense.

    1. Thanks Suzanne. The book is a powerful read and lets women make their choices. As a person, I would not agree with all the choices. But that is the message of the book. You can make a choice as long as you are ready to face the consequences

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