Fish In Exile
Vi Khi Nao
Coffee House Press
Fish in Exile, Vi Khi Nao’s first novel, is an extraordinarily intense and beautiful investigation of grief that shows itself little by little, surprising the reader with each turn of phrase. Indeed, to define it as a novel falls short of the mark. There is a curious quality to its strange, unexpected and muscular prose. That this book was written by a poet is evident from the first – it is a text infused with dense, surprising imagery and mythological references.
The story revolves around Ethos and Catholic, a young couple who face tragedy after a terrible accident. The facts are revealed only gradually, but it is evident from the first that something is seriously amiss. There is a disjointed quality to the characters’ interior monologues that is both comic and tragic – and deeply engaging. Throughout the book, intense emotional states are juxtaposed with extreme dissociation; unthinkable grief sits alongside strained, twisted logic. Ethos, walking by the sea, takes two stranded jellyfish and puts them in his haversack. “It’s inevitable, then”, he tells us: he methodically constructs an aquarium for the jellyfish, and buys a series of fish that continually die and are replaced.
Fish in Exile is that rare thing: a piece of art that transports you to an atmosphere you’ve never breathed. It is a sensitive exploration of the impossibility and, ultimately, the inevitability, of beginning to live again after shattering loss.
Words – Liza Cox