Daribha Lyndem’s debut Name Place Animal Thing, which has been shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature, 2021, is described by its publisher Zubaan as a novella that “meanders through ages, lives and places. The interconnected stories build on each other to cover the breadth of a childhood, and move into the precarious awareness of adulthood.” Meander, it certainly does.

Using individual narratives to stitch a broader one on a city or a place is not a new literary style, but it is one that demands unequivocally good craft. Set in Shillong, it is only D, the narrator of Name Place Animal Thing, who connects the stories and the characters around her, a device that keeps the book from being slotted as a short story collection.

Through most of its length, it does not have a plot or a thematic core for its readers. Rather, much like the oft-played school game of using letters by turn to draw up the names, places, animals and things, Lyndem ends up sketching mere character briefs of the people that D deems important for her readers: a Hindi School teacher, a house staff member, a neighbour, a schoolfriend.

Did we need a narrator?

Because Shillong is the geographical location of the characters, you get what…

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