My sixth and final read from the International Booker 2020 Shortlist is “Hurricane Season” by Fernanda Melchor (translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes).
The story -based in a dangerous, ghetto-ish, slum-ish, setup in Mexico, where drugs, alcohol, violence, prostitution and poverty abounds- revolves around the murder of The Witch, whose body is found drowned in a canal, right at the beginning of the book. The plot builds on rapidly and covers at least four different families/homes, each of which is linked to the Witch in some way, either by being related to her in life, or by being connected to her murder. It is not really a ‘murder mystery’ with the murderer’s identity hinted at in the 3rd chapter itself. The cause for the murder is hidden, but does not seem to be mysterious at all, given the overall violent and crime-filled background. With the what, when and who of the murder taken care of early on, the novel focusses on the why and the how of the murder in detail. The backstories of each of the characters reveal a society extremely devoid of mental and emotional calm, and what becomes of people living in such a hellish existence. The novel shows a crude abortion that leaves a young girl at her death bed, and on reading up I learnt that abortion, for most part, is illegal in Mexico. There is no ‘shock-value’ in the murder per se but the depiction of heightened homophobia and transphobia, ill-effects of hyper-masculinity, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, grooming, extremely profane language, violence, and bestiality pornography, will leave you stunned into silence- it is here in this..intense.. depiction, that the shock value lies.
I started reading the book in my usual way of a bit here and a bit there, but soon realized that I just couldn’t do it. Not only is the story very….extreme…but also the structure of the novel is nothing like I’ve ever read before. You have to sit and read it till the end. The lesser number of breaks you take the better. And not least because the story does not have paragraphs. It has 8 chapters, each chapter a single paragraph. There is severe dearth of punctuation, with some initial pages having sentences that were more than a page long, and a single sentence could cover many scenes and bring in many fragments together. The dialogues too do not follow punctuation except a ‘:’ . So, you can’t really decide things like, ‘am going to read two more paras and take a break’. There’s no way but to take breaks mid-paragraph or worse still, mid-sentence. I found that the sentence structure improved as the chapters progressed, almost as if the author wanted to reward the reader for hanging on and not getting disconcerted by the initial hurdle of structure.
The most …. I’m sorry but the only fitting word coming to me at the moment is ‘delicious’…. the most delicious part of the work is the layering of each part of the story, one on top of another. Ironically enough, each layer added to the story actually served to take away one layer of opacity from the plot. Okay… so I must rather write that layers of transparency were added to the story. Each chapter brought in a character and gave his/her backstory leading up to the murder and moving onto the next character in the next chapter- again leading up to the murder. Kind of like a snowballing except that each layer of snow getting added to the ball was not just added on the surface but was also touching the core. Like multiple paths in a forest reaching a central clearing. Only that the central clearance is not the only point of intersection of these paths. Each one intersecting another at other points too. This means, some events are repeated more than once in the book, once in one character’s story and then in another’s. This layering pattern is something I’ve never seen, and I didn’t realize what was happening in the first 3 chapters, but then when I did, it ‘blew me away’ 🙂
I read an interview by the author where she says her inspiration is…*drum rolling*…. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Autumn of the Patriarch”, which I haven’t read yet. But, is it too much of a co-incidence that two of the Booker contenders found inspiration in Marquez’s work (the other being Shokoofeh Azar)? While Greengage is ‘magical realism’, Hurricane is Extreme Realism, or what the author describes as ‘Nightmarish Realism’. This is not a book which you can enjoy. It is more like something you will be in awe of, and amaze at, and admire.
Hurricane Season has won a couple of other awards as well, and I think it is the strongest contender for the International Booker 2020 (pretty much upsetting my ranking!)
Excellent. (August 2020)
#bookstagram #bookstagrammer #fernandamelchor #hurricaneseason