“Malotibala Printing Press” by Mimi Mondal
Reviewed by Kat Day
The 80th issue of Nightmare contains two original short stories, one of which is flash length. There are also two reprints which will not be reviewed here.
The “Malotibala Printing Press,” by Mimi Mondal, is narrated by the ghost who haunts the titular Malotibali Printing Press. He’s the former owner who, in the version we hear at the beginning, fell in love with a beautiful author. When she rejected him he returned to his press to end his own life. The building has since been abandoned due to the angry ghost causing pages to be printed with misspellings and obscenities, or even just blank. Now, spending a night there has become a dare for young local men, who arrive after sundown and sit around telling each other creepy stories—in particular this version of the luckless owner’s life. The ghost, however, disputes this version of events, and instead begins to tell his own tale.
It’s all good fun. Although it’s not directly humorous, the ghost’s voice has a light tone and makes for an entertaining narrator. Unfortunately, after the ghost scares off his story-telling visitors, the story moves into a new and different phase when an animal-like, but sentient, being arrives on the scene. Here, to my mind, the piece rather lost its thread. The ghost and the creature plot and carry out a scheme, but somehow it’s all rather less engaging than the introduction. I almost wish the story had stopped with the creeped-out storytellers—even if that sort of story has been told many times before.
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island,” by Nibedita Sen, is—fairly obviously—a list story. The first excerpt describes a British expedition making landfall on the shores of Ratnabar Island, where they find a community of women and children. We learn that the natives offered the British a meal, which deeply offended the British explorers, causing them to attack and kill most of the natives. One suspects, but is not told, that the title of this piece provides the clue here. The excerpts continue, telling us that some girl children were rescued from the island, one of whom died and another who was enrolled in a British private school, where she introduces the other girls to her very different cultural heritage.
I appreciated the idea behind this but I couldn’t help wishing that, instead of a list, I was reading a story from the point of view of one of the girls that were kidnapped from Ratnabar. Admittedly, the list style affords the opportunity to condense a lot of action into a piece of flash fiction that would probably have otherwise required a full-length novel, but it also feels scattered and is difficult to engage with. The final paragraph has some important things to say, but because it was difficult to keep track of the different voices, the power of it was somewhat lost on me. If you enjoy list-style stories, perhaps you’ll like this better than I did.
Kat Day thinks you should read “Fail-Safe” by Philip Fracassi (one of the two reprints in this issue and not reviewed). It’s really good. You can follow Kat on Twitter @chronicleflask.