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

Emily Zong


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.


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

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