What’s Elephants In Captivity (Part One) all about?:
The penultimate story in this collection is told from the point of view of an elephant who is looking back on her life before she was captured and forced to join a circus.
What did I think?:
There is so much more to this story than what I’ve written in the synopsis which doesn’t do the complexity or the originality of this narrative justice at all. However, I’m going to attempt to explain a bit more about it in a coherent way but apologies in advance if it all just sounds a bit rambling. The most important thing about Elephants in Captivity is not the text itself but the footnotes which play a huge role in telling the story and unearth many unexpected surprises. The narrator of the footnotes suggests to the reader that it is best to read the entire story through once whilst ignoring the footnotes then return and read the story a second time, giving yourself plenty of times to incorporate what is written within the footnotes.
I did just as the author suggested and after I finished the story the first time round, I have to admit to feeling a bit confused. When I first began, I thought it was brilliant – I’m a big animal lover and I loved the author’s previous story in this collection told from the point of view of a tiger, The Infamous Bengal Ming so a story told by an elephant called Shanti seemed right up my street. By the end however, I wasn’t so sure…it seemed a bit too abrupt and that there seemed to be an awful lot of things that hadn’t been said that should have been. Enter the footnotes! On the second reading, everything began to slot into place and I was left filled with admiration for a very clever and different way of telling a story.
I don’t really want to go into what the footnotes contain too much as I fear it would spoil the story but let me just say – you need those footnotes! The narrator puts some crucial information into these “little” notes (I say “little” but believe me, the length of some of these notes could make a short story in themselves!). I loved the parts that he set up almost like dialogue from a play that explored the relationships between certain members of the herd in a much deeper (and darker) way than we get from just hearing Shanti’s point of view in the original text. Then there were the tidbits of information about his own life and how it related to the elephants that were very darkly humorous, at times shocking but impossible to put down. I’ll say one thing and then leave it there – penis like an elephant trunk?!
This was a story that proved what an undeniable talent and huge imagination Rajesh Parameswaran has as a storyteller and although Elephant In Captivity frustrated me initially, reading it through with the footnotes as additional pieces of information really gave the story something special and has firmly cemented it in my mind as one of my favourites from this collection as a whole.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Space by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky