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The Fish Girl

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Winner of the 2017 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize

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 te
110 pages
Published September 1st 2017 by Xou Pty Ltd (first published August 2017)
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3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  256 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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This is my first read from the shortlist of the 2018 Stella prize for Australian woman writers.

The Fish Girl is a beautiful little novella inspired by a short-story by Somerset Maugham called The Four Dutchman. I don't think it is necessary to have read that story before approaching The Fish Girl, small quotes from it head up each section, but I do think reading it at some point would make an interesting study.
The writing here is straightforward but beautifully sensory, placing you immediately
Cass Moriarty
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a review of the perfect gem of a novella that is The Fish Girl (Xoum Seizure 2017) by Mirandi Stanton (Riwoe), winner of the 2017 Seizure Viva la Novella Prize, but before I explore that I have two relevant comments. The first is to commend the high quality of Australian writing – especially by women – that I have been fortunate to read and review recently. We are breeding some seriously talented writers and I am so enjoying the breadth and depth of their work. Secondly, and this relates ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A gorgeous novella that makes high art of Maugham's scraps, The Fish Girl will draw you in gently before plunging a thousand daggers into your soul. Extraordinary.
Michael Livingston
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Short and powerful, this is a beautifully written novella that packs a lot into its 100 pages. I wondered if I was missing something by having no familiarity with the Maugham book that this launches off, but the story is strong enough even without that connection.
Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
I loved this book so much. The style flowed beautifully, the main character's emotions, dreams, fears and struggles so vivid. It was interesting to read it though the lens of a retelling of the life of one of the characters in W. Somerset Maugham’s story, ‘The Four Dutchmen’. I haven't read the original, but having read some of his other work I could imagine where the focus of his story would lie, and how different this story - sparked by the description of a 'Malay trollop'- would be.

Very keen
Kali Napier
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Joint-winner of the Seizure Viva La Novella competition, this novella takes as inspiration the reference to a 'Malay trollop’ in W. Somerset Maugham’s story, ‘The Four Dutchmen’. In Riwoe’s story, that girl is Mina who leaves her village and the innocence of her mother’s home to work in the kitchen of a Dutch colonial. She takes with her the smell of the sea, and her batik sarong, which she must discard for the garb of a servant. Under the tutelage of the cook, Ibu Tana, she learns of strange fo ...more
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A jam-packed novella that hits hard. The writing was beautiful and sensuous despite the brevity of the story overall. It manages to build suspense, have twists and turns, love and fear and hate, all in under 100 pages.
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘Remember the day you must return to me, …’

In fewer than one hundred pages of storytelling, Ms Riwoe creates a character who is now haunting me. Mina is an Indonesian girl living with her parents in a small fishing village. She is chosen by a Dutch merchant to work in his household. Mina did not want to leave home, but the decision is her father’s and she has no choice. Once she arrives, she works in the kitchen with Ibu Tana. One of the things that makes Mina’s new life more bearable is Ajat, t
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this novella, in the way that it was affecting and packed a punch for such a slim volume. But it also made my blood boil to read about the treatment of a young and innocent Indonesian woman at the hands of men and colonialists. Based on the blurb on the back, this was inspired by W. Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Four Dutchmen’, and now I kind of want to read it, but also not sure I really want to - and yet certainly admiring of Mirandi Riwoe’s efforts here. No wonder it’s won a prize (the 20 ...more
Helen Thurloe
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful sensual tale, with an acute sense of place. You can effortlessly smell and taste Mina's world, while also sensing the wider world that shapes her life. The seeming simplicity of the story, spiced with charm and dread, lends it the moral weight of a fable. Very memorable, and highly recommended.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stella-prize
2nd read for Stella Prize 2018.

This was incredible. Um, wow. I felt completely immersed in this story even though it's only a novella. It as just absolutely beautiful. I really hope this one makes it onto the longlist!
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
A most beautiful novella. This was winner of The Seizure Viva La Novella Prize in 2017.Inspired by one of my favourite authors W Somerset Maugham and his story ‘ The Four Dutchman’.
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This novella is a postcolonial rewrite and refocus of Somerset Maugham's "The Four Dutchmen" centred on the story of the minor tragic figure of the Malay girl. It is an evocative description of the landscape and the tragedy of a young woman, her choices and uses in the society. I suppose it could be argued that it treads some familiar territory of postcolonial literary fiction - description of delicious food, succulent fruit, bittersweet love and despair, a female character used, abused and betr ...more
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Winner of the 2017 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize and shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize, Mirandi Riwoe’s The Fish Girl is a lush, fable-like novella set in Indonesia.

It tells the coming of age story of Mina, a young village girl whose life is changed forever when her fisherman father sends her away to become a servant for a Dutch merchant. Sent to work in the kitchen under the bold and fierce tutelage of head cook Ibu Tana — a woman so large she has to come down the staircase sideways — Mina
Leeann Nolan
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Fish Girl was short listed for the 2018 Stella Prize, and deservedly so. The post-colonial novel takes the marginalised voice of the Malay girl in W. Somerset Maugham’s story, ‘The Four Dutchman’, and writes the story from her perspective. This is my favourite type of writing, which critiques notions of the literary canon, and is reminiscent of Jean Rhys’ novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. A beautiful, poignantly told novella.
Eleni Hale
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is my favourite reads of the year so far. I picked it up to flick through and didn’t get up until I finished it. So beautifully written. The story has stayed with me and, even though I read it a while ago, I still think about it often. Quite haunting.
Amy Polyreader
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: australian, womanhood
I devoured this novella in one short sitting. What an incredibly sensory experience. There are so many powerhouse female writers in Australia.
Dearna (Words of the Roses)

Beautiful written this novella leaves you with a punch to the chest. I adored getting to see the Malya culture, I could feel the heat of the sun and hear the lap of the waves.
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe is a short, grim story about an Indonesian girl, Mina, whose life changes when her father sends her to work for a Dutch merchant.

And what will she wear? What is the town like? Who will she work with? She asks herself these questions, a tremor of excitement finally mingling with the dread in her stomach, making her feel pleasantly sick like when she eats too much sirsak, the sweetness of the custard apple curdling in her stomach.

The move from her sheltered, gentle l
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Short listed for the Stella Prize 2018

This novella was a pleasure to read. It is inspired by Somerset Maugham's story 'The Four Dutchmen'; and focuses on a young Indonesian girl called Mina, who is taken from her village one day to go work for a Dutch merchant.

The decision was made by her father because he wanted benefits of produce such as spices & tobacco that would come from his daughter's employment. Mina is heart broken and feels that the arrangement is punishment; she loves her simple
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mirandi Riwoe was joint-winner of the 2017 Seizure Viva La Novella prize in 2017 with her book, The fish girl – and it has now been shortlisted for this year’s Stella Prize. As you may already know, it was inspired by Somerset Maugham’s short story “The four Dutchmen”, which I reviewed a few days ago. Indeed, Maugham’s story provides the epigraphs to each of the novella’s three parts. Do you then need to have read Maugham’s story to appreciate Riwoe’s take? I’d say not – and would hate that assu ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
In a week where I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about colonialism, and the stories we tell about it, this was a timely read. Riwoe’s novella is a real achievement. Her prose is direct, and highly evocative of place. She captures the internal life of the Fish Girl- her hopes, dreams, fears, and concerns so concisely, but with such care.
Although I haven’t read Maugham’s work- on which this is based, I imagine it would make an excellent companion read- much like Jane Eyre, to Wide
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this story. I find adaptations really interesting - I like the feeling of a story expanding to be seen from different perspectives.

I haven't read the original short story that this is based on (The Four Dutchmen by W. Somerset Maugham) but still appreciated that sense of the protagonist (a young Indonesian girl called Mina) getting the chance to tell her story, in her own voice. In the original, she is apparently never even given a name; but in this novella, we're given context
Jos M
Clever and literary, with simple, lovely language this was an interesting and worthy exploration of a minor and poorly treated character in Colonialist literature.

The experience of Indonesian life under Dutch rule is an extremely interesting (and deeply tragic) one and I liked the insight into life in a Javanese village, the things that Mina has never had. There are some clever touches, Mina's mother's beloved Batik being used to store vegetables for example, and Mina's interactions with the Ja
Jun 12, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The more I think about it the more I deeply dislike this book. The writing is fine but something about it just feels cheap and dirty.
James Whitmore
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I admired this brief and furious novella, historical in setting but contemporary in ideas. Mina is a Javanese girl in a fishing village, until she is sold to a Dutch master in the town of Wijnkoopsbai. There, her idyllic former life is slowly eroded by the most banal of human horrors.

The Fish Girl is an act of literary justice for the criminally underwritten ‘Malay trollop’ in Somerset Maugham’s short story of ‘comic and celebrated friendship’, The Four Dutchmen. While her treatment in Riwoe’s
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Fish Girl is a beautiful, compelling and powerful novella. The concept is great, Riwoe has taken a literary character mentioned in passing who merely played their role and then was forgotten and given this character, the "Malay Trollope" a story, a personality, a life.

This short story was the perfect length giving the reader powerful insight into the difficult life of our character. I fell headlong into the story and found myself caught up in our character's uncertain life. The ending is ab
Nur Sulaiman
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This short novella was easy to read. The story is set when Dutch still occupied Indonesia . It tells the story of a young Indonesian girl (Mina) from a small village who was brought to work in the household of a Dutch merchant. Mirandi Riwoe vividly described the food, village and household; you could almost imagine yourself being there yourself! There is also a touch of magic realism with Mina's almost mythical relationship with the ocean. We follow the journey of a young, innocent girl who was ...more
Barbara Rohde
Apr 14, 2018 rated it liked it
A deceptively simple loss of innocence tale set during the colonisation of the East Indies by the Dutch.
The writing style is clever as it lulls the reader into a false sense of security before delivering a powerful wallop at the end. I had very mixed feelings after reading this short story that kept me thinking for hours. While set in historical times, the main thrust of the narrative resonates well into contemporary times. But it is very confronting and won't be to everyone's taste.
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Mirandi Riwoe is a Brisbane-based writer. She has been shortlisted for Overland's Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, the Josephine Ulrick Short Story Prize and the Luke Bitmead Bursary. She has also been longlisted for the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and CWA (UK) dagger awards. Her work has appeared in Review of Australian Fiction, Rex, Peril and Shibboleth and Other Stories. Her first no ...more
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