[Women in Genre, Day 21] Amal El-Mohtar and Words of Beauty
Yesterday, I touched upon my preference for beautiful prose. Consider me shallow, but I find the better stylists among SFF authors to tell a superior story, because well-crafted prose creates more depth and nuances than straightforward prose in service of a plot or character development. Yes, the latter two matter in general, but superior writing starts with excellent prose. An author with a grasp on how to write with a magical ease is Amal El-Mohtar, which she displays in her fantastic but too short “The Honey Month”.
As far as I know, “The Honey Month” remains El-Mohtar’s single stand-alone work, but she has several appearances in magazines such as Apex, Weird Tales and Sybil’s Garage and anthologies such as Book of Apex, Steam-Powered and Welcome to Borderland. I don’t know whether Amal considers writing a novel, but I would very much hope she has such aspirations because she has a beautiful approach to storytelling as demonstrated in “The Honey Month”. I have become such a fan, I have marked all her publications to date and hope to read them at some point.
What makes “The Honey Month” so extraordinary is the collection’s concept. El-Mohtar picks a particular honey for each day of the month, offers a brief description and impressions of its taste before she uses it as an inspiration to craft either a short story or a poem. Writers have translated sights, sounds and sensations to the page, but have rarely focused on taste as primary inspiration and the resulting works enchant the senses with its delicate beauty.
Beautiful prose and beautiful minds come in various types. There’s the raw power of Beukes, the matter-of-fact horror of Warren and the royal poise of Slatter, but now there’s the ephemeral and rare fragility of Amal El-Mohtar’s prose, which you feel as though can observe only at a certain time and only if the right conditions are met. I actually craved honey by the middle of this short collection and I have to mention I’m not the honey type. I almost never consume honey and to be enamored to this point is a true testament to El-Mohtar’s craft and her ability to project sensation upon sensation upon her audience.
Apart from this divine synesthesia, El-Mohtar takes upon routes less taken in her exploration of the uncanny and odd, which results in beautiful, haunting imagery that clings to your soul as one very welcome sweet mist. It’s surprising how a single work can impact an individual, but this is exactly I love literature. You never know what book is loaded with the power to change your life and the way you feel about tastes and textures. “The Honey Month” has proven to be one calorie bomb for my mind and imagination and I’m still digesting the El-Mohtar’s vision and charging my own creative juices.
I certainly wish for Amal El-Mohtar to rise to prominence and gain the attention she deserves for if she is this good in just 82 pages, imagine the possibilities with a page number five times bigger than this.