Monday, August 12, 2013

Necrophilia by Sherine Hanaay - English Book Review

The novella Necrophilia by Sherine Hanaay is not your average story; it does not fall in the horror genre but it is nonetheless an intensely dark novella. It delves deep into the hallways of psychology, child abuse and its consequences, maturity and love. It also handles death – in various ways.

Necrophilia mainly falls under the psychological-thriller genre; it is certainly new topic in Arabic literature, something the writer should be lauded for. 

Necrophilia is a book that I could not put down, and although I desperately wanted to know how it would end, some part of me did not want to reach that ending and was actually stalling to reach it. It is one of those books that makes the reader fear the ending whilst fearing the end in the sense of the conclusion. Necrophilia is by far one of the darkest pieces of literature I have ever read – and I loved it!

The novella is about 12-year-old called Manseya, who is constantly described as being a horrifying creature, lives with her father and stepmother and is neglected by both. Her father abuses her both verbally and physically. We often see her father – Sayed – wishing that she were never born or that she would die. Manseya suffers from a disease, which the doctors have often diagnosed as severe anaemia, until she meets Dr. Gasser, who diagnoses her disease as Anorexia, the psychological disease of severe loss of appetite. After this encounter, Dr. Gasser decides to use Manseya in his thesis for a master’s degree.

Manseya is at the early stages of maturity and here we meet her friend – if she can be called so – Fotna.

There is some criticism of Egyptian society, where doctors in government hospitals do not treat patients to the utmost of their abilities simply because these patients are poor and pay little money. Thus, they receive as little service as the money they pay. Should they go to these doctors’ private clinics, and pay more, they would get better service and care. Dr. Marei, Gasser’s uncle, makes that note to himself in chapter two.

One of the prominent features in Manseya is her silence; she rarely talks. In chapter 3, Manseya spills boiling water on her legs, and instead of screaming in pain she remains silent for fear of being beaten up by her father.

Manseya has not always been hideous and anorexic. She was beautiful once, when her mother was alive. Her beauty fades when, her mother, the only person who has ever loved her and cared for her dies.

The novella begins with a horrifying description of her as being extremely thin with protruding blue veins. Wherever she goes, people stare at her and at her odd figure. The reader sees a gap between the way Gasser sees Manseya and the way she sees him; Gasser views her as a topic for his thesis, something that will make him rise above all others, whereas Manseya sees Gasser as the emblem of manhood and beauty; he rouses her femininity. Manseya also has an odd fascination with all that is deformed, mutilated or dead; it arouses her and reflects her mutilated psychology. Gasser makes this discovery at the very end of the novella; he realises that Manseya is sexually aroused by corpses and has in fact performed several of those fantasies.

Necrophilia contains several poetic parts, in which the speaker is usually Manseya, with the exception of the last section of the book. At first, I was a bit confused by the poetry amidst the prose, but then I realised that the poems form an integral part of the story. Not only that, but they also give variety and artistry, which should be lauded in favour of the writer.

There is, however, an oddity with the ending. I did not quite get why Manseya would assume that striking someone with a deathly blow would keep them ‘alive’ for her. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers).

It is worth noting that the writer’s choice of names is both interesting and significant, as several names reflect their characters. For instance, “Manseya” means ‘forgotten’, “Sayed” means ‘master’, and “Fotna” means ‘sexually attractive or arousing’. It is also worth noting that there is a lot of irony in the writer’s choice of “Manseya”, for although she is often forgotten or rather neglected by her family, the moment she exits a person’s life, that person cannot forget her and is likely to be driven to madness in thinking of her.

Not only does Necrophilia encompass the flashback technique, it also contains an extended flashback within a flashback; which is quite interesting.

Although the book does not contain horrendously gory details, it is nonetheless not for the faint of heart simply because of the abuse and dark details it contains.

Necrophilia is as enjoyable as it is shocking.

A 4.5-star rating is in order.

For the Arabic review of this book, click here.

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