Sparked by the description of a ‘Malay trollope’ in W. Somerset Maugham’s story, ‘The Four Dutchmen’, Mirandi Riwoe’s novella, The Fish Girl, tells of an Indonesian girl whose life is changed irrevocably when she moves from a small fishing village to work in the house of a Dutch merchant. There she finds both hardship and tenderness as her traditional past and colonial present collide.
Told with an exquisitely restrained voice and coloured with lush description, this moving book will stay with you long after the last page.
2018 Stella Prize Judges’ report
Mirandi Riwoe’s novella, The Fish Girl, packs a punch. A subversive postcolonial work of fiction, Riwoe inverts the white colonial gaze informing the portrayal of the ‘Malay trollop’ who causes serious divisions among shipmates in W. Somerset Maugham’s short story ‘The Four Dutchmen’. Compelling and evocative, The Fish Girl follows Mina, a shy Indonesian village girl who commences work in the kitchen of a Dutch merchant, only to discover her life continuing to unfold at the mercy of men who do not necessarily have her best interests in mind. The story draws on Sundanese mythology, with Mina finding solace in visiting a nearby beach at night, where she communes with the Ocean Queen, Nyai Loro Kidul, a goddess of the sea. Demonstrating mastery in economical storytelling, The Fish Girl is an immersive and deeply affecting literary gem from a powerful emerging voice in Australian fiction.