Disturbance of the White Man: Oriental Quests and Alternative Heroines in Merlinda Bobis’s Fish-Hair Woman


  • Emily Zong University of Queensland


Asian Australian, Merlinda Bobis, Fish-Hair Woman, Oriental quest, exoticism, magical realism, metafiction, the uncanny, transnational


This article examines the “Oriental quest” theme and its exotic semiotics in the Filipino Australian writer Merlinda Bobis’s novel Fish-Hair Woman (2012). The Oriental quest narrative typically features Asia as a redemptive locale for white, masculine figures to alleviate their identity crises. In its touristic form, the Oriental quest offers a controlling metaphor of cultural neocolonialism, whereby the white man’s self-analysis is parallelled by his interracial romance with objectified, consumable Asian women. In reading the novel’s metafictional and magical-realistic frame, I argue that Bobis adopts strategic exoticism to ironise the therapeutic promise of an Asian journey and portrays alternative heroines who act upon multiple desires. The novel’s complication of local-global encounters and modes of story-telling enunciates a transnational ethics of otherness based on empathy. This ethics reflects Bobis’s interstitial position as a diasporic-ethnic writer writing within and beyond the Australian literary environment.