The majority of my books I picked originally for South American ended up being historical fiction. It wasn't what I wanted or planned; it was certainly part of my original goal for the challenge, which was to have no more than half of my books being set in the past. I don't know why the offerings from this part of the world--or at least the books I could access easily--seemed to be either novels of dreamy magic realism or of edgy narco violence. I was also short on women writers. I picked Laura Restrepo's "Delirium", set in Colombia during the time of Escobar (who has a key walk-on part in the novel) since my book group has read two of her books during the years before I joined, and it seemed to balance out my reading list. I didn't download it in Spanish as an ebook, since I could get it from the library in English, and the challenge is costing me enough money as it is!
I don't know if not reading the book in Spanish was a mistake or not. Natasha Wimmer's translation seemed more than capable, but the one narrator who I was really interested in, Midas McAlister (Augustina's old boyfriend and money-launderer-on-the run) had a slangy, run-on style full of endearments and vulgarities that I found rather interesting. I would have loved to have read his story in Spanish. Come to think of it, I wish Restrepo would have dispensed with her labored (oh, so very labored) metaphor of Augustina's madness being symbolic of poor, crazed Colombia and just focused on the second-tier drug distributor. Because in the end, I didn't give a damn about the spoiled princess Augustina, or her sad-sack communist professor husband who is reduced to delivering Purina dog-chow to the rich. I just didn't care for so many reasons.
Where to begin? Well, to begin with, Restrepo makes her main character a vacant little high-strung little prima donna without a thought in her head, a person who prides herself on never picking up a newspaper. She makes the rest of Augustina's family into monsters (with the exception of the ever so sensitive little brother--who turns out to be gay, of course) that the reader can neither sympathize nor identify with. Even then, Restrepo doesn't have enough confidence in her painfully delineated construct that Colombia has caused Augustina's madness, so she must had a completely unnecessary back-story of Augustina's manic-depressive grandfather, her remote mother, etc. etc. C'mon lady, which one is it? And Aguilar, Augustina's dull husband who comes come from a short trip to find his wife has completely flipped out? Nope, I don't believe the two of them would have been together for a moment.
I've said before that I tend to dislike magic realism since a second-rate author tends to use it as a crutch. Well, what did cause the pampered Augustina to go around the bend? Well, Restrepo finally answers that question, in a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me-it-fell-from-the-sky denouement that has all to do with Augustina's psychic powers. Or something. It was all so obvious and heavy handed and just plain dumb.
This book has won many rewards, and has garnered many respectful reviews. I think a great deal of it has to do with the run-on style, which echos the fevered ramblings of the crazed woman's brain, which does have a certain attraction, but ultimately says very little. It seemed to me a self-congratulatory writing exercise, a salon stunt, the sort of writing that Ms. Restrepo's literary friends would discuss at a high-class cocktail party. Ultimately it is both empty and unsatisfying.
Delirium Laura Restrepo
Translator Natasha Wimmer