This World Does Not Belong to Us

This World Does Not Belong to Us is the debut novel of Ecuadorian writer Natalia Garcia Freire, originally published in 2019 and now translated by Victor Meadowcroft. The story begins like an eerie western with the arrival of two strangers, Eloy and Felisberto, whom the narrator, Lucas’, father greets like old friends:

“You didn’t seem frightened by those tangled beards, long and filthy, the heavy black clothing, nor by the men’s resemblance to a pair of bison with hollows in place of eyes.”

Lucas is immediately unsettled by the men, as are his mother and the four servants, Esther, Noah, Mara and Sarai – “a wave of fear was passing over all of us” – but the father becomes a “submissive, docile and credulous host” slowly withdrawing from his wife and son. The men repel Lucas, their “great dirty boots splattered mud as they went” and Eloy’s foot “covered in scabs, some of which clung to his sock.” They bring violence with them returning with a dead deer on the first morning, and letting the cows loose on Lucas’ mother’s garden, an incident that affects her fragile mental health. Lucas is increasingly ignored:

“I felt like a stranger, wandering through the house but visible to no-one, Father.”

What the strangers want, or what their relationship is with the father is never clear, an ambiguity which only adds to the sense of menace. Nor is the story told in linear fashion: the arrival of the two men may be the catalyst, but the novel begins with Lucas’ return after his father’s death:

“I’ve come home, but have not yet dared go in. They’re still there.”

While revenge would seem to be the most obvious motive for his return, Freire introduces a further twist by having him declare, when he finds himself in front of Felisberto:

“I wanted to humiliate myself, wanted to kiss his hand, gigantic and hairy, to be his servant, the most loyal in the world, the kind who, upon realising that the one they see is despicable, force themselves to love him even more.”

From the very first page, where he describes his father surrounded by “slugs, camel spiders, earthworms, ants, beetles and woodlice,” we understand that Lucas has an unusual relationship with insects (in fact, with the UK edition, this is made clear from the cover). When his mother is taken away to an asylum, Lucas retreats to a cave where “if you kept very still and quiet, you could see how spiders and scorpions filed out of the cracks.” He soon grows to worshipping the insects, “aware that they were more powerful than I was.” One day Esther finds him and tells him:

“God will lay your lifeless body before the lifeless bodies of your idols.”

The insects do, indeed, represent death (the novel’s original title was Our Dead Skin). When Lucas returns, he is even further removed from the human world, from which he feels he has been expelled as Satan was expelled from Heaven; in the same way, he will create his own kingdom:

“I will have an altar crowned with butterflies and larvae; I’ll forever kiss the beetles, pray before all spiders and march with scorpions, for this house belongs to them.”

In saying this he is saying the house belongs to death, but if we think therefore that he has come to kill Eloy and Felisberto we will be mistaken. Despite the sense of inevitability, Freire succeeds in developing an ending that is not what might suspect.

This World Does Not Belong to Us is a terrifying, nightmarish novel – at one point Lucas wonders if his father has simply trapped them in his own nightmare. It is infused with a sense of dread which embodies itself in the physical present pf the men and then in Lucas himself. As its English title suggests, it reveals to the reader how little we matter, and that life is simply death in waiting.

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9 Responses to “This World Does Not Belong to Us”

  1. roughghosts Says:

    Well, this sounds bleak.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Sounds very dark and claustrophobic, Grant!

  3. JacquiWine Says:

    Goodness, this sounds like an excellent book, but utterly unnerving – especially with the elements of ambiguity adding to the threatening mood. Is it set in modern times, or is the time period unclear (and part of this sense of uncertainty)? There seems to be a timeless quality to the story, judging by your review.

    • 1streading Says:

      It doesn’t feel like modern times but is quite difficult to place – it had a Western feel to it but that may be me associating it with the closest genre that comes to mind.

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