Words || Zoe Victoria
When I was asked to read APPLE AND KNIFE and write a review , I said yes immediately. I then spent the next week regretting it. Firstly, the idea of reading this book and writing a kickass review in just over a week was daunting even for me, speed reader extraordinaire. Then came the sinking realisation when I reached the acknowledgement pages at the back of the book, that the author, Intan Paramaditha, is a lecturer in the Media Department at Macquarie. So in the interests of trying to save myself from any potentially awkward encounters, I’ve written a list of the pros and cons of reading APPLE AND KNIFE.
You will be confused a lot of the time. As I was reading the book, I had a pad of post-its to mark things that I knew I would need to come back to in order to write this review. I left one note at the end of the story entitled, ‘The Well’. The story follows Dahlia, a resentful daughter tasked with caring for her elderly father by her other siblings. Dahlia escapes the monotony of her daily life by exploring the large ancestral home she shares with her father. Beyond a red door in the far corner of the house she finds a mystical forest and discovers a well that houses a faceless woman. One day when she visits the forest, she watches, horrified, as a giant wolf massacres a group of men and women gathered in the forest. Dahlia tries to escape in an attempt to avoid being another of the wolf’s victims, but to her horror she cannot find the red door that will take her back home. Seconds away from death, Dahlia is rescued by the faceless woman in the well. But as the woman draws Dahlia down with her into the well, it is impossible to know what fate awaits her. The note I left at the end of this story read: “What?” Nothing about the story made any sense to me. Many of the notes I left in other stories had some other variation of a perplexed exclamation like: “SO CONFUSED” or “Creepy as heck”. I don’t know that any of them have actually helped me write anything constructive about whether the book is worth reading but I feel they provide an accurate depiction of how you may feel while reading APPLE AND KNIFE.
The first story in the collection, ‘The Blind Woman Without a Toe’, is without a doubt the best retelling of the Cinderella story that I have read in my life. Told from the perspective of the character we know as the Ugly Stepsister, Paramaditha turns the tale as we know it on its head. And the cleverly infused feminist overtones throughout the story will have you empathising with the struggles of both the stepsisters and Sin, as she is called in this retelling. You will be left wondering if fairy tales can ever have a happy ending for a woman.
APPLE AND KNIFE is an extremely dark book. I was frequently disturbed and creeped out while reading it. But at the same time, the ever-present darkness that Paramaditha weaves throughout all of her stories is one of its greatest strengths. And if you want to get super analytical about it, you could even label it a commentary on the experience of womanhood. There is always a darkness that cannot be controlled, an inescapable shadow and a pervasive fear.
So if dark, disturbing fiction is your thing, go for it. But it is definitely not my cup of tea and it did not make for pleasant reading.
While, you may be extremely confused, particularly while reading some of the latter stories in this collection I can guarantee that if you manage to pick up on any of the subtleties in the book you will feel like you are getting smarter. The second story in the collection, Blood, is a commentary on the way in which womanhood is defined by blood. Paramaditha, without shoving the message down your throat, points to the way in which periods and sex and childbirth are associated with fear and shame for women despite their biological function of creating life. The blood of men on the other hand is associated with bravery, pride and conquest that often leads to death. The reader is left questioning the logic of the patriarchy that values the blood of death over the blood of life.
See, don’t you feel smarter already?
So if you’re looking for a book that’s going to challenge you a little and expand your mind, APPLE AND KNIFE is for you. And if you’re just on the hunt for the best Cinderella retelling there is, I would definitely recommend giving it a red-hot go. But be warned! If you’re looking for a pleasant bedtime read like the fairy tales of your childhood, APPLE AND KNIFE is not it. And I guess that’s exactly the point. Much like the women in its pages, it refuses to fit neatly into a label of good or bad.