A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.
The two seem anxious and, at David’s ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past. As David pushes her to recall whatever trauma has landed her in her terminal state, he unwittingly opens a chest of horrors, and suddenly the terrifying nature of their reality is brought into shocking focus.
One of the freshest new voices to come out of the Spanish language, Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange and deeply unsettling psychological menace in this cautionary tale of maternal love, broken souls and the power and desperation of family.
This is a very unusual novella, structured as questions and answers between a dying woman, Amanda, and a child, David, who is not hers. Amanda has been on holiday with her daughter, Nina, and has befriended Carla, David’s mother. Carla is frightened of David, calls him a monster, and tells Amanda that her son has been ‘transmigrated’ into another body after being poisoned.
This ‘new’ David is certainly strange, but is Carla telling the truth? Is she deluded? How has Amanda ended up dying in a hospital bed? And where is Nina?
The writing here (translated by Megan McDowell) is just excellent. There is a sense of foreboding, of menace, a real strangeness to the tale that is executed beautifully. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but I found it completely absorbing. In an age of disappointing, box-ticking, formulaic books, it was a genuine pleasure to read. There are no answers here, no satisfying resolution. It’s creepy, uncanny and weird, really, if I’m honest. But it’s brilliant.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy for review.