Let Us Look Elsewhere
Chosen by Farhana
‘I imagine you came here with expectations… Prepare then to be annoyed…’ warns Mona Dash in the opening to her debut short story collection, Let Us Look Elsewhere, from Dahlia Publishing. A bold warning, but Mona’s stories – featuring settings that span the globe and characters that refuse to accept the limitations of their surroundings – come together to form a satisfying and often surprising whole.
The writer of A Roll of the Dice (a memoir and an Eyelands Book Award winner), A Certain Way, Dawn-drops (poetry) and Untamed Heart (novel), Mona has been listed in various competitions and is part of the British South Asian writers collective, The Whole Kahani. Originally from India and based in London, Mona also has degrees in engineering and business, a Masters in Creative Writing and works in a global tech company. And, in many ways, the stories in Let Us Look Elsewhere are as varied as their author’s background and interests.
From London, to Las Vegas, to Mumbai and in between, the collection explores themes and characters that are as diverse as their settings. For example: in ‘The Sense of Skin’, a Finnish fur farmer’s offhand comment to his lover has irrevocable consequences for his livelihood and relationships; in ‘Natural Accents’, a woman buys a new accent, but gets more than she bargained for; in ‘The Temple Cleaner’ and ‘The Boatboy’, the resourcefulness and quick-thinking of the protagonists lead to triumph and tragedy; in ‘Inside the City’, it turns out that hell hath no fury like a woman who’s just gone through her lover’s phone; and in the prize-wining ‘Formations’, a mother’s visit to her married daughter reveals a web of fears, desires and deceit.
The focus on desire – and related themes such as (dis)connection, identity and belonging – is served well by Mona’s writing style, which is both sensual and unsettling. For instance: a lover’s skin is described as ‘lavender soap scented, paper dry and dolphin cold’; another character pictures herself in a new city as ‘glittering, shiny, beautiful, the way [she’s] meant to be’; and in another story, the narrator notes how a chandelier has both ‘a soft glow’ and ‘spidery arms’. This use of animal imagery and references to light versus dark are just some of the ways in which the writing conveys a wider sense of yearning and is one of the collection’s strengths. This is an accomplished short story writer, and one who nails the ending every time.
Far from predictable, Let Us Look Elsewhere is a rich exploration of desire and also a celebration of the complexity of being.