The Fish Girl seems at first glance to be a light book, easily read in a day, perhaps even one sitting.
But within the Stella Prize shortlisted novella is story that is weighty and significant, which is a forceful antidote to W. Somerset Maugham’s description of the ‘Malay trollope’ in The Four Dutchmen.
In The Fish Girl, Mina is the title character, Somerset Maugham’s trollope, expanded and made whole when she leaves her small fishing village to serve a Dutch trader in town.
Her past clashes with her new life as she eats new foods, endures the harsh nature of her boss in the kitchen and is introduced to the round and pink friends off her ‘Master’. Here, her beauty attracts the favour of her Master, but also that of the son of the chief of her village, and a visiting trader.
Throughout the novel, there is a sense of foreboding as Mina struggles to understand her circumstances and the new world that she is encountering. From the time her father agrees to send her away until the end of the book, she is completely powerless.
The Fish Girl is tragic and haunting, but devastatingly good. There are few better ways to spend a few hours than reading this short and powerful novella.