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Review: A History of Objects by Carlo Pizzati

Carlo Pizzati’s A History of Objects is a collection of 23 short stories, each one dedicated to a specific inanimate being which, in the course of the story, becomes a cog in the author’s storytelling machine. The stories, with a range of different characters, vary in length, style and setting, and are ostensibly brought together in this collection because of the objects featured in their titles. They range from a diaper to a jade stone, from a coconut scraper to a teddy bear. These then come to be employed by Pizzati in some stories as a starting point, in others as a red herring, in still others as poetic signifiers, and as anchors of the short narratives. However, what comes off, at a glance, as an interesting literary project, can, at a broader level, be seen as a rumination on art itself and on those who dare to create it. The inescapable and enduring nature of art in life makes itself manifest through almost all of these pieces of short fiction.

228pp, ₹399; HarperCollins

In the opening story, The Hard Drive, the narrator, who happens to be a writer, contemplates the very process of fiction writing. He calls his fictional characters who have been accidentally erased “puppets” or “masks” created to tell readers what he, as a writer, “was too embarrassed” to tell them directly. The narrator notes how writers create characters “to hide” their own “truths”. Here, the narrator deliberately blurs the real and the imagined; memory is always tricky and subjective while the imagination, through writing, translates into personal history telling.

The next one, The Coconut Scraper, which reads more like a story-within-a-story, begins with a conceptual artist who “asked to be called Charles the artist”. He has arrived at a house near the beach in the hopes of landing a commissioned portrait of the “contemporary Indian dance diva” who lives there with her Turkish novelist partner, Olrak. The latter then regales the artist with the gruesome legend behind the titular scraper lying on the table. Here, the very act of storytelling is central to the story that eventually ends with the writer confessing to the artist that he had made up the legend. Olrak emphasises that “conceptual art is all about the story” and so it shouldn’t matter whether there was any truth to the tale just told. It would seem that Pizzati is actively thinking about artistic creations and their creators through his own literary project.

Many different kinds of artists and creators populate Pizzati’s stories. In The Bench, he highlights the problematic privileged lens through which his contemporaries might view the world. In The Smartphone, a gradual erosion of authenticity is presented in a world mesmerised by the Instagrammable life.

Carlo Pizzati (Tishani Doshi via www.harpercollins.co.in)
Carlo Pizzati (Tishani Doshi via www.harpercollins.co.in)

Often cynical of artistic pretensions, the author holds dear a pure love for art and its healing and revolutionary capabilities. What appeals to him is a more communal form of art making like the “balcony and courtyard concerts” which, in The Mask, become meaningful ways of community building during the pandemic when ‘social distancing’ had overshadowed every conversation.

Another story, The Umbrella is constructed around an actual event, the murder of perfumer Monika Ghurde. Through these different short narratives, mostly highlighting art and artists, Pizzati’s work itself becomes representative of the liminal space that fiction occupies between reality and imagination, memory and make-believe.

Simar Bhasin is an independent journalist. She lives in New Delhi.

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