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Book review: Seek the Singing Fish by Roma Wells

Roma Wells with her novel Seek the Singing Fish

Seek the Singing Fish is a unique novel forged from Roma Wells’ passion for words, people and the natural world. It is brutal and horrifying, yet also cleansing and uplifting. Roma pulls no punches when it comes to covering the atrocities of the Sri Lankan civil war, nor the plight of a young woman trying to reconnect with her family. 

Roma explains her approach with Seek the Singing Fish: “After working as the Press Office Lead for issues like modern slavery and sectarian conflict in Asia, I knew illuminating these issues raw and openly was important so as to avoid the  ‘compassion fatigue’ we often get with sweeping news coverage. By juxtaposing these human horrors with the splendour of the natural world, I wanted to show how each can actually enhance the other’s pigments.”

This unflinching approach is tempered with reflections of fascinating insights into the beauty of the natural world, and of the kindness and strength that can be given by strangers. It is Roma’s aim for “hope to shine through in the heart of darkness”.

Seek the Singing Fish starts by stepping straight into the repercussions of conflict on local people and we meet Artemila (Mila) who is growing up with her family against a backdrop of violence and uncertainty. Roma beautifully describes Mila’s family life: the powerful relationship she has with her appa (dad) who encourages her to explore every feature of the world around her; the food-driven relationship with her amma (mum) and her ever-changing bond with her younger brother.

Her appa’s wonderful outlook on the world ultimately inspires Mila’s survival mechanisms when everything starts to go horribly wrong. There is a beautiful moment when he makes Mila step out with him into monsoon rains to fully experience the moment. Their shared look of mischief after being told off by amma was so vivid it is hard not to grin as you are reading.

This is a novel about developing an insatiable urge to learn about the world and people around us, despite the difficulties you may be facing. The book is written as a direct conversation with the reader and it is urgent, poetic and vibrant.

The reader is treated to strange and wonderful observations about the many animals and plants who inspire Mila. This ranges from frogs who can break the bones in their feet to turn them into claws to defend themselves, to poetic descriptions of the rituals animals and birds perform to attract the perfect mate.

It’s a difficult novel to compare to others. There is one obvious link to Where the Crawdads Sing, both through the title and by focusing on a lone woman surviving difficult conditions while relishing the natural world around her. But Seek the Singing Fish doubles down on both the dangerous predicaments and the exuberance of the descriptions of the animal world. 

Unlike authors like Louis de Bernières (eg. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts) who break up harrowing descriptions of conflict with dark humour, Roma uses the sheer beauty and adaptability of the natural world. There is also a touch of the mischief of Gerald Durrell (e.g. My Family and Other Animals) when describing human characteristics in a way that makes them blend in with fascinating animal observations.

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“The owner of the record shop had slow loris eyes as big as the vinyl’s pinned behind his till and he was always doused in musk aftershave. The musk deer secretes a distinctive odour from a gland that looks like a scrotum, Shi, and coincidentally the shop owner’s loose neck skin looked just the same.”
Roma Wells
Seek the Singing Fish

Roma also shares Joanne Harris’ (eg. the Chocolat series) ability to bring the smells and tastes of food and drink directly to your own senses. If you’ve never tried nelli juice, string hoppers, lotus root curry or deep-fried jelabis, you’re going to want to by the time you finish the book!

Seek the Singing Fish is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a truly beautiful novel offering inspiration with a big call to connect to the healing properties of nature. 

Buy it here at:

Waterstones 

Amazon

About Roma Wells

Roma Wells, author and presenter

Aside from writing Seek the Singing Fish, Roma is also releasing a creative mindfulness album Oceanava this year, along with working on a pilot for her own nature show and writing her second novel.

She has been described as “where Lara Croft meets Snow White” and we love the clean look she creates with our necklaces, trouser chains and bracelets!  Not to mention her bespoke fedora hat.

Keep an eye out for more from Roma soon.

You can follow her on:

Instagram

TikTok

Twitter 

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