Mischa and her sexually preoccupied group of friends muddle through the sticky heat of Hanoi, with days spent in media and aid organisations and nights in various bars. The arrival of Matthew’s son Cal exposes the cynicism in their approach to the city and relationships, but it also puts Mischa in touch with a side of herself long since abandoned. For Mischa, ‘the need to be swallowed up by strangeness was the closest thing to desire I’d felt in years’ and it is the journey back from this need, the gradual reawakening of her sexual and emotional consciousness, that compels the narrative.
Mischa’s friends provide the perfect disillusioned foil to Cal’s stubborn and strident idealism. It is through Cal’s passion for her and his inability to just accept the world around them that Mischa ceases to be satisfied with mere existence. Cal is the means through which she works towards this self-renewal, but their relationship is set against a backdrop of sexual corruption and commodification, which means that the power dynamics are never straightforward and hypocrisy is rife.
Maguire details the heat, the history, the poverty and the beauty of Hanoi; she is skilled at capturing the beauty and the ugliness of both her characters and location. Cal is still maturing—in turns a beautiful, insightful and passionate young man, and a petulant, needy and demanding boy. Raised in Australia, but of Vietnamese descent, he becomes intrigued with and disturbed by Vietnam in a way that Mischa has not even considered, and the strength of his convictions forces Mischa to evaluate her place in the world.
In Fishing for Tigers Emily Maguire presents an accomplished narrative voice, fascinating characters, and a developed cultural backdrop to a nuanced emotional and sexual drama.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.