Posted in book review

‘My Girl, Fiona: A Collection of Essays’ by Denise Gwen

My Girl, Fiona: A Collection of Essays by Denise Gwen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sometimes we see ourselves in animals – here I mean the mammals, especially — and relate our mental images to them, whether they are pets living under the same roofs or wild ones in nature or zoos. That is why animals are apropos mediums to project our mirror images into their figures without exposing our naked selves outright. And that is what Denise Gwen does in her elegantly poignant collection of essays My Girl, Fiona.

Fiona is a hippopotamus the author adopted emotionally from her struggling birth into the world at Cincinnati Zoo. Abandoned by her enormous mother, the vulnerable yet adorable baby Fiona chimed the emotional bell of the author on the octaves of her family. Fiona, the name of Gaelic origin, provokes the image of a vivacious fairy whose feistiness and resilience elements make her all the more mysterious and, not to mention, beautiful. But the beauty is uncommon and only kind, which strikes Edgar Allan Poe’s wise dictum that “There is no exquisite beauty without strangeness in proportions.” Then the adorable hippo Fiona becomes a kaleidoscope of images of women, representing the Exquisite Beauty Tribe. It consists of her youngest sister, whose name is also Fiona, her feisty Welsh late mother, and herself in midlife crisis blotted with sentimental reminiscences. Added to this tribe is Shrek’s wife is Princess Fiona. Her transformation from conventional slender beauty to a green-colored ogre-like her beloved hubby is a guest of honor in the Fiona Parthenon. One way or another, they all share the beauty marks of uniqueness, confidence, and self-esteem as the author brings them into life in the alchemy of words, brewing the images into a fascinating pastiche of the Fair Fiona.

Animal stories charged with human emotions may well turn to the art of anthropomorphism in which animals speak like us with accents varied from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. But the author nuances the overtly human sentimentality in her narratives lest they should become schmaltz through Fiona, the lovely hippo. Also, the way she narrates with an elegantly apt choice of words and poignantly witty expressions is reminiscent of the British writing style I am familiar with. In fact, before finishing the book, I suspected her of being British for the reasons mentioned above. Consequently, I wasn’t miles away from the speculation because her mother was a proud Welsh who remained Welsh in her spirit and language during her lifetime. My Girl, Fiona is a thoughtful and heartful memoir disguised as short fiction apart from egotistical meanderings, which many celebrities nowadays indulge in stories that lack universal empathy. It is also a compact book you can read without leaps of attention and boredom in your spare time.



View all my reviews