Archive for April, 2022

A Proper Marriage

April 27, 2022

At the end of the first volume of Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence series, Martha Quest, Martha finds herself inextricably drawn into a marriage with Douglas Knowell, even though she has only recently escaped from her mother’s overbearing presence in the veldt and found a measure of independence in town. In an ironic contrast to the concluding nuptials of the traditional comedic novel, she does so in the certain knowledge it will not last:

“…she was being dragged towards it whether she liked it or not. She also heard a voice remarking quietly within her that she would not stay married to him…”

As the second volume, A Proper Marriage, opens, she already senses that whatever tide has carried her to this point is ebbing:

“The dragging compulsion which had begun to operate when they met, which had made it impossible to say no at any stage of the process, seemed broken.”

The title is both ironic and an indication of the way in which Martha will be advise throughout the novel on a ‘proper marriage’ both in its early days and later when the relationship begins to fall apart. Martha pledges that she is too young to have children – “I shan’t have children for years yet – dammit, I’m only nineteen myself” – but soon falls pregnant, falling victim to the belief that “conception, like death, was something remarkable which could occur to other people, but not to her.” Her pregnancy, childbirth, and the early years of child rearing are the main focus of Martha’s life throughout the novel. As with the first volume, Martha battles to create and retain some form of independence – the very independence her mother declares she must renounce:

“You won’t have time for all your ideas when the baby is born, believe me!”

Lessing gives us a detailed account of the birth – surely one of the earliest in fiction? – from her impatience at the beginning (“In her mind it was already born”) to her memory of the pain after:

“The shadow of the pain she had felt, though not the terrible intensity of it, threatened her.”

Martha’s pregnancy coincides with the beginning of the Second World War and soon Douglas, along with the other men of his generation, feel compelled to join up. (Though the war itself does not feature, there is a section describing Douglas stopping over on his return home after being invalided out of the army which gives a sense of life as a soldier, and demonstrates Lessing can write men just as well as women). Martha finds herself bringing up her daughter, Caroline, alone, but, although the war has taken her husband away, it also leads to an influx of young men from ‘home’ in their place. This all at once expands the horizons of the colony; as one of her friends says to Martha:

“They read more books. They talk about things. They’ve got culture, that’s what it is.”

With Douglas back the pressure is on Martha to have another baby – the ‘solution’ to any marital problems. Meanwhile Martha feels much as she did as a teenager living with her parents:

“I’m fed up… I’m so bored I could scream. I can’t bear – anything!”

Still, however, she does not have a clear idea of the alternative, wondering, “If she was to leave Douglas, for what way of living was she to leave?” In her restlessness she is attracted to a group of left-wing activists raising money to help the Soviet Union in the war, but she wants to go further and becomes involved in attempts to set up a branch of the Communist party. From the beginning Lessing gives a clear idea of the cliques and disagreements involved in left-wing politics. The few Communists in the town, some in the air force, others refugees, cannot even agree whether it is worth creating group, dismissing Martha as one of “a handful of girls who want love affairs and a bit of excitement.” Whatever the case, it is clear that Martha’s politics cannot coexist with her marriage to a civil servant.

A Proper Marriage is a novel which manages to be both modern and old fashioned. Lessing’s writing is still clearly influenced by social realism, but it argues against traditional narratives when it come to love and the role of women. Here we see Martha attempt to adopt the roles of wife and mother and find them both unfulfilling – still, to some, a radical proposition today. By the novel’s end it is Martha herself who is radicalised. As Mr Maynard – a character who in many ways represents the conservative heart of the colony but who has a soft spot for Martha – says to her:

“I suppose with the French revolution for a father and the Russian revolution for a mother, you can very well dispense with a family.”

Though he expresses his thoughts with his usual deflective humour, he is entirely serious.

Death in Rome

April 23, 2022

One of my favourite discoveries last year was Wolfgang Koeppen’s Pigeons on the Grass, so when I discovered that Death in Rome, the final volume in what is often regarded as a loose trilogy, was originally published in 1954 it was a foregone conclusion that I would be reading it this month. Admittedly this has entailed foregoing the middle volume, The Hothouse, but as the novels are unrelated in plot and the connection between them is largely thematic in that they examine, in different ways, Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War, moving from ‘one’ to ‘three’ causes no real issues. Translator Michael Hofmann, in his introduction, suggests that Death in Rome is not only the “most accessible” but “the best of the three”, describing it as “the most devastating novel about the Germans I have ever read, and one of the most arresting on any subject.”

Like Pigeons on the Grass, Death in Rome has a number of central characters and moves freely between the stories and consciousness of each one; but unlike the earlier novel – which has around thirty characters – Death in Rome limits itself largely to one family intended to be representative of Germany. Of the older generation we have Gottlieb Judejahn, an unrepentant Nazi who cannot return to the fatherland at present without fearing arrest, and his brother-in-law Friedrich Pfaffrath, who also held office as a town mayor under the Nazis but still has political power being a careerist rather than a fanatic. Their sons represent the younger generation: Adolf Judejahn, who is training for the priesthood, and Siegfried Pfaffrath, a composer. According to Hofmann:

“These four represent the four principal areas of German achievement, or the four quarters of the riven German soul: murder, bureaucracy, theology and music.”

Each generation despises the other. The music Siegfried has written is a deliberate act of rebellion:

“…a form of composition that was considered unacceptable in Siegfried’s youth, and which now attracted him for that very reason, because it was frowned upon by those in power, his hated teachers at the military academy, his feared uncle Judejahn, the mighty man whose glowering image in the vile uniform had hung over his despised father’s desk.”

In a similar fashion, when Judejahn hears that his son has entered the priesthood he “reeled, his face twisted, he grew pale and the red, his brow and his cheeks purpled, his veins stood out, he was apoplectic, he clutched at his throat…” At one point he says to Friedrich, “What’s the matter with our kids?”

As the novel progresses the characters meet both accidently and deliberately as Koeppen choreographs their movements around the city. Siegfried is in Rome because his composition is being performed; Gottlieb is there to meet Friedrich who believes he can fix it for his brother-in-law to return home. All are in some way defined by their experience of the war, but Gottleib is the most unpleasant (and therefore the most memorable) of the four. It is he who believes that death is coming for him, he who has caused so many deaths. (When he discovers his son is becoming a priest he thinks “he should have sent a few more priests to heaven since he’d gone and supplied the church with a new one”). He feels only nostalgia for the war and the power it brought him, which he now seeks to recreate as a mercenary. When he is attracted to a woman in a bar, Laura, he is excited by the thought she might be Jewish:

“…he needed a woman to hate, his hands, his body, needed another body, another life to have and to destroy, only when you killed were you alive…”

Gottlieb is undermined not only by his name (as are all the characters, their names, of course, having been chosen by the previous generation) but by subtle touches such as the mangy, stray cat he adopts and christens Benito, and a moment when a building collapses and he attempts to take charge “but no one listened to his German voice, no one understood him…”

The novel is deliberately male, and the female characters, while sympathetically drawn, often function to reveal aspects of the male characters as we have seen with Laura. She later meets Adolf at the bar where she works who, in a sense, supplants his father, who exits unnoticed as Adolf is “sitting in Laura’s smile as under a giant sun, the wonderful sun of an innocent paradise.” Siegfried, who witnesses this, also gains the sympathy of a woman, the wife of the conductor, Ilse Kurenberg, whose family, it turns out, his father refused to save when he was mayor. Just as in Pigeons on the Grass, Koeppen is a master at creating and exploiting connections. Death in Rome is complex, intricate, yet compulsively readable, and Koeppen’s trilogy must rank among the great works of the twentieth century.

Whole Days in the Trees

April 19, 2022

Whole Days in the Trees by Marguerite Duras is a collection of short stories originally published in 1954 and translated by Anita Burrows in 1984. Duras was only forty in 1954 yet three out of the four stories concern characters who are older. In the title story Jacques is visited by his mother, a rich factory owner, in Paris where he lives with his lover, Marcelle, working as hosts in a nightclub. ‘The Boa’ features a young girl growing up in a French colony more typical of Duras’ writing, but the relationship described is with a female teacher who has never married, and it is filled with the regrets of age as well as the desires of youth. ‘Madame Dodin’ is perhaps the most unusual of the four stories, telling of the affection between the eponymous concierge and a dustman in a generally comedic manner. Finally, in ‘The Building Site’ the relationship, between an older man and a young girl, is resonant of Duras’ most famous work, The Lover, though in this story the couple have very little contact.

In ‘Whole Days in the Trees’ we immediately sense the distance between Jacques and his mother. Her wealth is displayed in the seventeen gold bracelets she wears on her arms and in her appetite – the food Jacques and Marcelle have to offer is not enough and she soon insists on buying more:

“They had this in common, all three: that they were blessed with a hearty appetite. The son and Marcelle because they lived in state of continual semi-starvation. The mother because, as a young woman, she had had appetites for power and strength that had gone unsatisfied…”

The mother wishes Jacques to take on the management of the factory, regarding his present life as wasteful – “there is gold there, do you hear!” she tells him, “Gold to be earned.” Her faith is fuelled by a belief that (as she tells Marcelle) “if he’d chosen to work he would have moved mountains.” Jacques, however, has always chosen the easiest path:

“I can’t work, I don’t want to work. I don’t want to work.”

Even in his relationship with Marcelle he is open in admitting that he does not love her and will soon move on. As she tells his mother, “the moment he has one woman, he goes after another. It never ends.” His mother believes these attitudes originate in childhood (“That’s how it began”) as he never wanted to go to school. The story’s title, ‘whole days in the trees’, is a reference to how he spent his schooldays:

“…once you’d awakened me, instead of going to school I would go around routing out birds’ nests.”

The story captures the way in which both mother and son are trapped in roles they both loathe but are unable to change through their repetitive conversations and the tension of their competing desires, with Marcelle as a meek chorus.

In ‘The Boa’ youth and age also coexist with differing needs. The narrator is a schoolgirl whose family owes a debt to Mlle Barbet for having accepted her into the school. For this reason, she cannot object to regularly accompanying her teacher to the zoo, where, among the other animals, they watch a boa eat a chicken (the boa is a fairly obvious phallic symbol). This visit is followed by Mlle Barbet showing the girl her “lovely linen”:

“She stood very straight so that I could admire her, looking at herself lovingly, half naked.”

Mlle Barbet is in her sixties and, as the narrator expresses it, in a state of “very advanced virginity.” She goes no further than exposing herself, and the girl learns a lesson typical of Duras – that desire should not be repressed. Desire is also the subject of ‘The Building Site’ where a man watches a young girl walk into the woods. Time passes and, when she does not return, he follows her and finds her looking at a building site – the focus of her having ‘discovered’ it suggests that what is also being ‘built’ is her awareness of her own desire. They have a brief conversation, but he does not follow this up, merely watches her from a distance over the days that follow until:

“…she had at least understood the slow power of his waiting and the imminent dawning it contained.”

The story ends with them meeting in the woods for the second time.

‘Madame Dodin’ features a much more comical love story between the title character, a concierge, and the local dustman, Gaston. She has various ways of tormenting those who live in her building – insisting they bring out their rubbish daily, stealing their parcels, and retrieving objects fallen out of windows claiming never to have seen them. Only Gaston is treated kindly but, as the years pass, their friendship fails to go further. Although gentler, it also feels like a warning against repressed desire.

Whole Days in the Trees demonstrate a remarkable range in Duras’ writing, and, in particular, a sympathy for older women of all classes. It reasserts her abilities as a writer who has been rather marginalised as telling only one story. Though in some ways her fame persists, it would be better if her work was also more easily available.

Happy Stories, Mostly

April 16, 2022

The stories collected in Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s Happy Stories, Mostly (translated by Tiffany Tsao) demonstrate a writer delighting in the form. Pasaribu is Indonesian and many of his stories reflect on what it means to be gay in that country. Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia but, as Pasaribu has said, “Not illegal” gives a radically different idea from what my friends and I currently experience.” As he goes on to explain, community is important, but this can lead to a pressure to conform:

“Even to be eccentric, to be a loner, to be a reader is to be seen differently here.”

This is evident in ‘So What’s Your Name, Sandra’ where a mother travels to Vietnam after the death of her son, Bison. The name, she felt, “sounded manly and strong,” perhaps partly to compensate for an absent father – a fact that means “all the kids called him ‘Bison the Batak Bastard,’” an early sign of community disapproval. A more significant ‘difference’ occurs alter when Sandra discovers he has a boyfriend:

“I told him he was no child of mine. And then I kicked him out.”

The story is beautifully paced, intercutting her trip to Vietnam (where she intends to visit My Son) with moments from the past.

Interestingly, ‘The True Story of the Story of the Giant’ also examines its gay characters from the outside, using a heterosexual narrator, Henri. Henri’s friend, Jamie, acts a comedy chorus, for example replying to Henri’s concerns that he is “confirming stereotypes” by having multiple partners:

“Henri, Henri… all the hetero guys that I know have three or four girls! What do you call that?”

The focus of the story is a newer friend however, Tunggul, whom he assumes is straight until he tells him otherwise, admitting that he has kept it a secret as his sister has already told their parents she is a lesbian and, “All my parents have left is me.” These very human stories combined with the story of the giant man which Henri hears in different versions, a story that comments on the nature of friendship. This story within a story is an example of Pasaribu’s skill with the form; other stories showcase a more obvious experimental streak. ‘A Young Poet’s Guide to Surviving a Broken Heart’, for example, is addressed directly to the reader. Largely humorous in tone, it ends on more poignant note with a poem slipped between the pages of a book.

Pasabiru also ventures into science fiction in ‘Metaxu: Jakarta 2038’ with the same mixture of humour (“vidxfessions”) and humanity. The narrator confesses to throwing a medicine bottle at her brother which leaves him deaf in one ear, and further to refusing to help him when he wanted a job at the karaoke bar where she works:

“I never mentioned my brother to my boss. Not only that, I fibbed to buy time.”

The science fiction is in some ways incidental, but it does allow a striking juxtaposition at the end where the idea that “we’ll soon have the technology to erase all our bad memories for good” is mentioned alongside her memory of her brother looking “like an old photo.” Pasabiru moves from science fiction to fantasy with ‘Welcome to the Department of Unanswered Prayers’, a monologue addressed to a new staff member:

“When it comes to lunch, I’d suggest only sitting with people form this department. Try to avoid interacting with others, especially those in Matchmaking.”

As with Pasabiru’s stories in general, the humour directs us towards a more thoughtful conclusion, as the listener is warned that one day their own unanswered prayer will appear:

“Just remember: Don’t trust any of your feelings. They’re wrong.”

Perhaps surprisingly, my favourite story was ‘Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam’ about a retired nun, Sister Tula, who begins sneaking out of the convent:

“She feels like Lazarus: raised from death to life by the power of Jesus Christ.”

On one ‘outing’ she encounters a young boy who is lost and, in returning him to his father, gets an invitation to visit. The father is gay but won’t live with another man as he fears his son will be bullied. Tula becomes intent on developing a relationship with the boy and the story’s light-hearted premise soon acquires an emotional depth.

Pasaribu’s stories suggest a playful but serious imagination. Sometimes they are heart-warming, sometimes heart-rending, but they always touch the reader’s heart. Happy Stories, Mostly may not have made it onto the International Booker shortlist, but it provides a wonderful example of the exciting writing brave publishers like Tilted Axis Press are discovering and bringing to an English-speaking readership.


April 12, 2022

Paulo Scott’s Phenotypes, translated by Daniel Hahn is, as the title suggest, a novel about race. It’s original title – Marrom e Amorelo (Brown and Yellow) – perhaps makes this even clearer, but obviously has entirely different connotations in English than in (Brazilian) Portuguese. Scott tackles the issue head-on as the novel opens with its protagonist, Federico, sitting on a committee considering the use of racial quotas in Brazil. Federico has an understanding of racial distinctions much closer to home as he is in appearance white, while his brother is not:

“I, with my very fair skin and straight brown hair verging on the blond, was considered white, and he, my brother, was considered black…”

And so even as a child his brother, Lourenco, has to suffer “the insults that had come out of the filthy mouths of three of his little bastard class-mates.” Years later Federico admits that even he did not fully understand the difference, giving as an example his refusal to use the flash when taking photographs as it’s “for amateurs” only for his brother to eventually tell him:

“But you’ve got to use it for me, otherwise when it’s kind of dark like now I don’t show up properly.”

Federico’s relationship with his brother will be one of the central strands of the novel, but in the meantime the committee allows Scott to highlight both the currency and the complexity of the race issue, and the difficulty of even defining ‘colour’, with black students unhappy with:

“Afro-convenient brown people, those who were merely inoffensively tanned and who’d decided to pose as true deep-down blacks in order to exploit the opportunity and surf on the advantage of quotas.”

Similarly, white students are accused of “getting themselves a few sessions in the tanning booth… perming their hair, getting lip injections…” Scott’s description of the committee suggests he could write an excellent political satire, but rather than being the focus of the novel this instead provides a context for the much more personal story it will tell, one that originates in Federico’s past when he arrives home to find his brother with a gun he has been asked to hide. Years later the gun resurfaces in the hands of Lourenco’s daughter, Roberta, when she is arrested on her way to a demonstration. Federico leaves the commission to help her, but she is dismissive of him, regarding his work as a link to the government:

“…she shrugged, and it was the first time I’d felt any kind of aggression from her, leaving me kind of unsure how to react from one moment to the next.”

One strength of the novel is that Federico’s character is far from perfect, and, in particular, is seen as arrogant and aloof by some of the other characters. For example, he is contrasted unfavourably with his brother in a bar in the neighbourhood where he grew up:

“I’m a fan of your brother’s. Lourenco never moved away, Lourenco’s not all theory, Lourenco just is.”

Complicating matters further, the policeman who is intent on charging Roberta is known to Federico from an incident years before:

“He’s a guy who’s been carrying a grudge against me and might want to take his hatred out on Roberta.”

The incident is a fight which breaks out one night in a queue to get into a club. It begins with a racist comment aimed at Federico’s cousin, Elaine, by another girl. The girl refuses to apologise, and the argument escalates, but it is Federico rather than the girl’s friends who resorts to violence first. This seems out of character and, indeed, it is as later we discover that Federico has had his own encounter with racism already that day. This is all cleverly revealed throughout the novel which alternates chapters set in the present with those in the past. This not only signals that racism persists (in fact, according to Federico’s father, “the group of people who think black men and women are disgusting is only growing”) but that the novel is, in part, about Federico facing up to his past, a place he has tried to escape from.

Phenotypes is a powerful novel which does not shy away from the complexity of its topic. It uses its structure and characters to explore racism from a variety of angles, but without ever seeming schematic or preachy. Federico’s flawed character is an important facet of this, seeing himself by the end perhaps like his father:

“…a man who is neither better nor worse than other men, carrying with him his rage and his intention not to make mistakes, never to make a single mistake.”

Cursed Bunny

April 5, 2022

The International Booker Prize has an unusually high number of short story collections on the long list this year and, having only been won once by anything other than a novel (Hassan Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ in 2014), it seems unlikely that many of them will make it through to the shortlist. Of the four, Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny (translated by Anton Hur) most deserves a place there.

Chung demonstrates her disregard for realism within the first moments of the opening story, ‘The Head’: a woman, just as she is about to flush the toilet, notices a head looking up at her. She ignores its cry of ‘mother’ and flushes it away, but it soon reappears. When she questions it, she is offered this explanation:

“My body was created with the things you dumped down the toilet, like your fallen-out hair and feces and toilet paper you used to wipe your behind.”

Even when she pulls it out of the toilet and throws it away, it finds a way back. Years pass; when she has child, she tells her: “That was what we call a ‘head’.  If you see it again just flush.” The story taps into both the guilt we feel at what we discard and the anger that results when we cannot entirely reject those elements of our past we regret. Like most horror stories it is about loss of control, and Chung brings it to a fitting conclusion. Body horror also features in the second story, ‘The Embodiment’ abut a woman whose menstrual bleeding won’t stop. A doctor prescribes birth control pills but six months later she feels sick and dizzy and discovers she is pregnant, despite a complete absence of sexual activity. This is blamed on taking the pills longer than she was told to:

“If your body happens to be abnormal, a side effect from taking birth control pills for a long time can be pregnancy.”

This obviously requires a tricky suspension of disbelief from the reader (perhaps because other elements of her fiction, like the talking head, are so clearly fantastic) but may well originate in an old wives’ tale. Certainly, the story proceeds to satirise Korean society as the woman is told she must now find a husband:

“You better find a father for that child, fast. If you don’t, things will get really bad for you.”

The story proceeds to relate her often excruciating attempts to do just that on a series of awkward dates, though the satire gives way to horror once again at the end.

A number of the other stories feel like modern versions of traditional tales. The title story is about a family that make cursed fetishes and the havoc that a cursed lamp in the shape of a bunny creates. In ‘The Frozen Finger’ a woman returns to consciousness after a car accident to hear a voice telling her she must get out of the car. Chung uses a small detail (the wedding ring the woman searches for before she will leave) to create a spine-chilling ending. Like ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Reunion’ it is an unexpected ghost story.

Even closer to fairy-tales and fables are stories such as ‘Snare’ (which literally begins, “Once upon a time…”) in which a man finds a fox in a snare bleeding gold:

“The surrounding snow had made it hard to notice at first, but now he saw the area around the snare was splattered with the glittering substance, some of it hardened in the cold snow.”

He keeps the fox and bleeds it regularly, but that cruelty is exceeded when the fox dies, and the man finds a similar ability in his twin children. In ‘Ruler of the Winds and Sands’ we have kings and princesses – and a golden ship that sails through the sky, and in ‘Scars’ we have a man tuned into a monster. Each of these showcases the darkness at the heart of Chung’s work, ‘Scars’ in particular, as the protagonist, once he has been changed, seems incapable of anything but destruction no matter how good his intentions.

Despite these common themes and genres, Chung’s work is varied and unpredictable – she even branches out into science fiction in ‘Goodbye My Love’. The only certainty in every story is that the reader can be confident they are in the hands of a writer in complete command of her material, no matter how incredible the events she is describing.


April 3, 2022

Paradais is Fernanda Melchor’s second book to be translated into English (both by Sophie Hughes) and her second book to be long-listed for the International Booker Prize. Paradais is more compressed than Hurricane Season – not only shorter but also limited to single voice – but it contains the same intensity of language and focus on the darker side of desire where it borders and eventually becomes violence.

Paradias is a luxury housing complex, a gated community which seeks, and fails, to control what lies within its walls. The novel brings together Franco – porn-addicted, overweight, a misfit and loner – who lives there with his grandparents, and Polo who, having flunked school, works there as a gardener. Rather than friendship, they are united in unhappiness. Franco – or fatboy as Polo calls him – has developed an unhealthy obsession with a neighbour’s wife, Senora Marian, which he shares with Polo as they drink together:

“I’ll fuck her like this, he’d drawl, having clambered to his feet at the edge of the dock; I’ll fuck her like this and then I’ll flip her on all fours and I’ll bang her like this, and he’d wipe the drool from his mouth with the back of his hand and grin from ear to ear with those toothpaste ad teeth of his, white and straight and also clenched in rage as his gelatinous body wobbled in a crude pantomime of coitus…”

Polo’s main concern is escape: he hates the job (“he’d gladly never set foot inside that fucking development again”) which his mother has forced him to take, and resents the presence of his pregnant cousin, Zorayda, in his home. If Franco has deluded himself that Marian might reciprocate his feelings for her, no doubt influenced by the pornography that makes up his entire experience of sex, Polo has nothing but contempt for her. Like Franco, he views her personality through his own limited understanding of women, but he resents what he regards as her attempt to gain power over him through her looks:

“To be desired, lusted after, to put dirty thoughts into your head. You could tell she loved it…”

This is exacerbated by his position as an employee, as we see when she gives him a tip for staying late to tidy up after a party:

“Why the hell hadn’t he handed the envelope straight back and told her, with every ounce of disdain he could muster: I don’t need your handouts, thanks very much?”

Polo also views Zorayda with a mixture of hatred and desire, accusing her of trying to seduce him until eventually:

“Polo couldn’t contain his hatred for that bitch a second longer and he pushed her up against the back of the armchair, yanked down her hotpants and rammed his rock hard cock inside her while the little whore panted and slapped her hand on the back of the chair without a clue of what was going on.”

Polo’s anger at his powerlessness in his own life is directed at the women around him, his resentment particularly focused on any power they might have over him. Similarly, despite his privilege, Franco is equally powerless when it comes to the opposite sex (in direct contrast to the pornography on which his understanding of relationships is based). In this sense, the novel’s violent denouement is almost inevitable.

Melchor’s skill is in unleashing the misogynistic torrent of the narrative without compromise, and hijacking the language of pornography to her own ends. No female perspective is admitted – we learn nothing of Zorayda or Marian beyond what Polo or Franco tells us, though, of course, we can interpret it differently. (For example, it is hinted at that, far from sleeping around, Zorayda has only had sex with Polo making him the father of her child). We also get a glimpse of the only escape possible for Polo, one into a world of crime, which he begs his friend Milton to admit him to, even after the quite terrifying story Milton tells him of being forced to kill a man.

Paradais reads like a modernist crime novel, one where the reader cannot leave the consciousness of the criminal. This allows Melchor to display in all its horror the visceral hatred and sexual objectification of women. Few novels will be more uncomfortable this year, but her approach lends it an undeniable power. Hurricane Season made to the short list in 2020, and I suspect Paradais will do the same.