Noir Gone Sour
Vaibhav Parel
BODY AND BLOOD: STORIES ON BREAKING THE TEN COMMANDMENTS by Urmilla Deshpande Speaking Tiger, 2019, 197 pp., Rs.299
February 2020, volume 44, No 2-3

This slim volume belies its promise of a ‘first-of-its-kind’ collection ‘of noir and black humour at its best’. The cover image of a bitten apple and its subtitle, ‘Stories on breaking the Ten Commandments’ make explicit the pointlessly aggressive anti-Christian rhetoric that the book progressively builds. The book works with a fundamental assumption that the absolutism of vice is the antithesis of virtue, and thus vice is presented–ironically–as the moral counterpoint of virtue, repeatedly, in each of the ten stories. These stories which purportedly challenge the imposition of a rigid moral framework essentially never emerge from the stranglehold of (im)moral action and thought. The simplistic binary that the book sets up makes one wonder: is morality–even in the Judeo-Christian frame–ever as simple? Does vice always liberate, and virtue always imprison?
The first story ‘Body and Blood’ enacts a macabre inversion of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, where a dead person is literally eaten by her family and friends. If the approximation of Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter (1953) is taken to another extreme, what is completely missing is Dahl’s finesse and sensitive rendering of emotional states. The execution of the idea is banal and the noir-like element is too strained to be credible.

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