Lucy min? (Lucy who?, Merlin Publishers, 2016) is a novel about a young woman who navigates adulthood in a world that is not always kind; she tries to make the best out of difficult situations that can be strenuous and misleading. Lucy is not one to mince her words and is outspoken about everything that goes on in her life. The raw honesty of her voice is impelled by a need to see what lies behind societal norms. She realises that life rarely unfolds in a series of milestones, but is instead a constant figuring out of one’s role and identity, and that an overall scheme or plan, if there is one, must be fluid and unpredictable. The novel’s texture mirrors this by allowing for a number of narrative non sequiturs, like featuring Lucy’s father in the beginning of the story, only for him never to be mentioned again.
Nevertheless, at no point does Lucy’s experience of the world set her apart. She is different and her own person, but her existential quest is not one that revolves around the assertion of her identity. Instead, Lucy experiences a crisis borne out of despair, a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, which obfuscates any sense of purpose that she might have. Calleja pushes her characters to the edge, in order for them to face themselves and their anxieties. Their journey becomes a formative encounter with something larger than themselves.
In some of the short stories from her award-winning anthology Kissirtu Kullimkien (You’ve Smashed it All Up, Merlin Publishers, 2020), Calleja examines this idea further. For instance, in ’Il Bogħod (Far Away) she uses the image of a heavy black gate that keeps people at bay. These individuals reach out to the story’s nameless narrator but she pushes them away. The narrator gives them her back and faces the immense blackness in front of her, feeling as though she were physically dissolving. The image of the moon is her only point of reference, as she strips herself of all the expectations and assumptions that permeate her existence. It is a leap into the unknown, where she yearns to find a truer self who is unshackled by foregone collective ‘truths’. However, this does not alienate her from society. Quite the contrary, she becomes even more aware of her standing in the community. Her vision of who she is, is now enlightened by what is essentially a numinous experience of oneness with the universe which, in the long run, benefits this same society that the narrator temporarily withdrew from.
On the surface, Calleja might be viewed as a political writer, yet there is an undercurrent of spirituality that informs her work. For her, material existence has no value if divested of a spiritual, emotional core.
Biography written by Noel Tanti
Arts Council Malta
Creative Industries Platform
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul