Man, this was depressing.
I had been wanting to read this novel for a while now and had really high hopes. Out of all the Booker prize nominees, this one sounded the most intriguing. Therefore, I was very excited when I finally picked it up a few days ago. My feelings about it are mixed, to say the least. ‘Bewildered’ may be a more fitting description of my attitude toward this novel. I don’t really know how to rate the book because it is tremendously well written but also an extremely unpleasant reading experience. First and foremost, I want to praise the fantastic writing. The rather unusual writing style took a little getting used to, but after a few pages I got comfortable with the long sentences, the lack of quotation marks and paragraphs and the density of the text in general. I also really like how the story is structured. Every chapter gives a different perspective on the events transpiring before the murder of the witch whose body is found in the first chapter. I love how the different chapters, and therefore the different perspectives, vary in intonation. Despite the third-person narration, the emotions differ totally from each other, depending on which character the chapter focuses on. A whole range of emotions can be found. From hateful and profane tirades to delicate and reserved meditations. Sophie Hughes does a terrifc job translating the somber mood into English:
[…] Brando stormed off to the bathroom, where he’d stand before the mirror and stare at the reflection of his face until it looked like his black pupils, together with his equally black irises, had dilated so wide that they covered the entire surface of the mirror, a forbidding darkness cloaking everything: a darkness devoid of even the solace of the incandescent fires of hell; a desolate, dead darkness, a void from which nothing and no one could ever rescue him.
But there are a few things that bugged me about the novel. First of all, the subject matter really got to me and not in a good way. This can partly be attributed to the great writing but not exclusively so. The whole novel is riddled with violence and obscenity but halfway through some of the descriptions became so explicit that it influenced the profound impact that the novel had on me up until that point. These descriptions, that include vulgar portrayals of pedophilia and bestiality, had the effect of turning the empathy I felt for the characters and the entire situation in general to anger. Not so much the pedophilia, because even though I was disgusted by it, I had even more compassion for the victim after reading the excrutiating scene. But the whole depiciton of Brando’s zoophile fantasies really took me out of it and seemed unnecessary to me. This Freudian approach of tracing all problems back to sexual frustration seemed to miss the mark. I’m not saying this to condemn this kind of portrayal or even to criticize it, it is more a question of personal preference. I fully understand that the excessive depiction is in no way glorifying or mitigating these cruelties, quite the opposite. I am sure that Fernanda Melchor is trying to show the reader how terrible and gruesome life can be and maybe the way I felt after reading this is even the effect she intended. But it left me so disgusted and emotionally drained that I could only think of how much the characters pissed me off. I love depressing literature but I don’t like it when my only thought when finishing a book is that I never want to read it again.
‘A whole range of emotions can be found. From hateful and profane tirades to delicate and reserved meditations.’Tweet that shit!