Suki by Suniti Namjoshi – Review


From internationally acclaimed author Suniti Namjoshi, comes a reflective study of humanity and the art of writing through the novel Suki. The novel is a lightly fictionalised memoir of the relationship between the author and her cat Suki. Split into two parts: 'A Memoir' and 'The Vipassana Trek', Namjoshi's work is brimming with deep insights and quick wit.

Suki by Suniti Namjoshi
Suki by Suniti Namjoshi, a lightly fictionalised memoir.
Published by Spinifex Press.

When I first heard the premise of Suki, I was a little skeptical. I am not a cat person, and I wasn't sure where this book could possibly go - a memoir for a cat? However, my mind was soon changed. The novel takes place (for the most part) in the home of the author who has in-depth conversations with her moody and intelligent cat, Suki. Namjoshi and Suki debate the idea of person-hood, morality, love and death, which are arguably all subjects that fascinate writers.

From the moment I started reading, I could tell this was a novel I could potentially fall in love with. The opening line reads: "I want to write down everything I can about Suki".

Whether we like to admit it or not, writers as readers are always sucked into a novel with the description of the act of writing. Safe to say, Namjoshi had me hooked then and there.

The thing I found most satisfying about Suki was the cleverly placed universal truths and observations about the writing process and writers themselves. I wondered if the characterisation of Suki was in fact, one of the voices in a writer's head; self-doubting, challenging and mocking the writer herself.

Some of my favourite observations which I interpreted from a writer's perspective were:

'Suki,' I grumbled, 'you don't really care about my writing at all, do you?' She bent her head and licked her right paw, then she licked her left paw.
'I quite like it,' she said, 'but sometimes I have to make a terrible effort to accept all its assumptions...'

I loved that this touched upon the writer's quest for approval, as well as the doubts personified by Suki. Haven't we all read over our own work at some point and thought 'is this really believable? Can I really say this?' I also particularly loved:

But change isn't necessarily evolution, you know. After all, all that can be said about those who survive is that they do survive. Sometimes merely by chance. And if not by chance, then through sheer bloody-mindlessness which is hardly commendable."

I'd scrawled 'brilliant' next to this snippet in the manuscript. I thought that though it was from a cat's perspective, it was completely applicable to the way humanity continues to live. It was little quips like this that made a book which could have otherwise been dull, into something moving and relate-able.

Another particularly clever instance was when Namjoshi asks Suki: 'If you had to write about yourself, what would you say?' and Suki replies: 'I was born. I was traumatized. I was loved. I got sick. I died.' In one short response, Namjoshi summarizes the human experience so bluntly and completely that the reader is left in awe. This all happens in the first part, 'A Memoir'.

It was the second part of the book, 'The Vipassana Trek' that started to lose me. Firstly, I had no idea what 'vipassana' was. It turns out 'vipassana' is a form of "meditation involving concentration on the body or its sensations, or the insight that this provides."

In this part Namjoshi goes to a retreat in order to concentrate on her meditation. Unfortunately, she is distracted by a number of quirky characters that seem to jump to and from her mind. Suki questions these characters and Namjoshi's decision to meditate - becoming yet another distraction.

As I am not a remotely spiritual person, I found this hard to stick with - the banter between Suki and the author had slowed, and although I got the distinct feeling that the creatures like Magsie, Chipsie and Princie (to name a few) were meant to be symbolic of something much more meaningful, I didn't fully comprehend what was going on.

Things like this always make me question my own intelligence and whether or not I've missed something completely obvious, but either way, the menagerie of Namjoshi's mind just didn't do it for me.

I was grateful when the voices settled slightly, and the camaraderie between her and Suki returned. I was once again provided with some breathtaking insight and philosophies of life:

'Once you dug up a chunk of the past and it was redolent. What enticed and frightened you was the smell of death... What goes on in the mind may be quite as difficult as what goes on in the world, but it's not quite the same. Time can be coaxed to go forward and backward."

Despite the arguable lag in the second part of the book, Suki has been a truly unique read for me. I related to many things as both a writer and a reader, and was left with a feeling of contemplation about life and art that not many other books can instil.

I would recommend it to any writer for it's original structure and concept, but also for it's sharp and profound observations about life itself. So much so, that I can't help but leave you with one more:

'Suki, I think I want to be half liberated.'
'If that's what you want, that's what you'll get - the wanting, the getting and the losing - over and over again."

***

Suki by Suniti Namjoshi, published by Spinifex Press will be available from the 14th of February, 2014.

Helen Scheuerer

Helen Scheuerer is a novelist from Sydney, and the Founding Editor of Writer's Edit. She has a Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong and a Masters in Publishing from The University of Sydney. Her #1 bestselling YA fantasy novel, Heart of Mist is available now. You can grab your copy here. She also chronicles her writing process and current work over at www.helenscheuerer.com.

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