RAW AND UNCOMPROMISING
by Claire Bonello
The picture which Immanuel Mifsud chose to grace the cover of his book is that of a prawn - a small, defenceless
creature curled up foetus-like on a white background.
This may have been an idiosyncratic choice but I find it quite apt as the characters described by Mifsud remind
me of prawns buffeted about by the tides of circumstances and emotions beyond their control. The 13 short
stories in this compilation all feature individuals trying to come to terms with their identity, their sexuality, or the
path which their lives are to take.
Sometimes the stories of the protagonists make for belak reading, but Mifsud's writing is always engaging and
not without those subtle traces of humour, which contrasts so vividly with the unfortunate circumstances of his
In 'Happy Weekend', for example, we find the aging single lecturer who lives a life of humdrum monotony with his
aunt, and lives for the blessed relief of Fridays. Mifsud manages to describe the unfailing sameness of the
lecturer's days in a way which is both amusing and poignant.
There is the unchanging weekly timetable of meals - fish soup on Fridays, a pasta with ricotta on Saturdays, and
timpana on Sundays - accompanied by the ritual of newspaper-reading on the weekly outing to Buskett.
These are the touches that give the reader a sense of the stultifying boredom of the lecturer's existence. His
brief escape from this uneventful life makes for the twist in the tale - an unexpected one but one which is still
Escape is also the theme of 'Il-Mara ta' Teo de Jong' , where the female protagonist starts out as a young girl,
loved and cosseted by all, but has to face a changed reality where she is no longer secure in te love of her
husband and where the choices she has made have closed off many avenues for her.
She plans her escape, sending out smoke signals, via posts on an internet forum, but does not receive the
response she longs for. Her getaway is sweet revenge, and is again, unexpected but entirely plausible.
Unlike many other writers, Mifsud feels totally at home using the digital world as another dimension into which his
protagonists escape, seeking refuge or like-minded sould with which to communicate.
In the powerful 'Anne u Sylvia', the scarred, chubby woman who immersed herself in the world of the poetry fo
Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, now sends out tentative feelers across the net, trying to find someone, anyone,
who shares her feelings.
In this story, Mifsud's descriptive skills excel as he juxtaposes the frumpiness and dowdiness of the protagonist
with the slender loveliness of her brother's girlfriend. He has this contrast to highlight the incredible pressure to
conform to society's pre-ordained ideals fo beauty. Those who do not measure up to this standard, are sidelined
This feeling of being sidelined by society, of being an outsider looking in, is also evident in 'Bieb Bieb', where we
follow the changing fortunes of a woman abandoned by her husband. That one event strips her of her access to
love and security, be it emotional or financial.
Her status in the community has changed, and everybody looks at her in a diferent light, "Indunat li kien hemm xi
ġirien li tawha bonġuy differenti minn tas-soltu."
The denouement of the story is as bitter-sweet as the ice-cold Kinnie which she drinks to counter the searing
heat of the Maltese sun.
Mfisud captures the eswence of Maltese village and family life very well in 'Efrem'. This story is narrated from the
point of view of a man who is returning to Malta and his relatives for the first time since childhood. So he views
the Maltese through the rather unforgiving eyes of a foreigner.
He seems to shy away from the pompous ceremoniousness of small-minded village folk ("Għala għandhom
moħħhom daqshekk żgħir?") and their penchant for exaggerating and lionising even the most mediocre works fo
Their excessive emotionality is also viewed with some suspicion by the detached narrator of the piece. However,
even though he has been brought up within a culture which is totally alien to the loud and tactile one of the
Maltese, he still feels pangs of loss for a kinship and a relationship which he remembers only very dimly, if at all.
This longing for the feelings felt in times gone by, is echoed in "Ħars", which is a multi-view point piece which
delves into the effect that time has on relationships and people.
In the blurb I had written for the book, I had observed that these weren't sotires about heroes or heroines or epic
tales, but simply stories of everyday life. In this book, Mifsud has protrayed the myriad disappointments, personal
failings, the daily grind and the occasional flashes of hope that make up the human condition. He has done it in
a raw and uncompromising manner which contributes to the authenticity of the stories and which makes them
The Sunday Times (Malta), 7 March 2010
Copyright 2002-2020. Immanuel Mifsud. All rights reserved.