DeliriumWinner of the 2004 Alfaguara Prize
Translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

Returning home from a short trip away, Aguliar receives a phone call asking him to pick up his wife from a hotel.  He arrives to find that Agustina has gone mad.  Worse still, it appears that she was staying there with another and now absent man.  To say that Aguilar is devastated is to understate the case, and yet, because he loves his wife, he takes her home and attempts to deal with her “delirium”, and to discover the truth of what happened when he went away.

That truth unfolds gradually as Aguilar’s narrative is intertwined with that of Midas, Columbian drug-trafficker and mysterious other man, and Agustina’s own. Her story is one of a troubled childhood, her relationship with an younger brother who had to be protected from bullies, the biggest being the father whom Agustina adored.  Midas’s story, while full of violence, crime and danger is also unexpectedly funny (in places), providing much needed comic relief from the swirling emotional turmoil elsewhere. Aguilar’s raw narrative is by far the most moving, even though he is not the most likeable of men.  Everyone has a history and Aquilar’s is neither flawless nor entirely honourable.

I can’t fault him though for his devotion to Agustina. As he relates their history, it becomes clear that she is the love of his life;  that he has already sacrificed much for her, and that he would willingly do so again.  Neither is this the first psychotic episode he has nursed her through.  I say “nursed”.  A better word would be weathered, because his narrative makes it clear that when Agustina is delirious, it is a case of submitting to her every whim, putting up with the impossible while waiting for the storm to subside.

And that is the essence of the narrative arc.  It drags in places, particularly at the start, but then, as the characters establish themselves and the many secrets begin to surface, it becomes ever more engrossing.  I’m not surprised this novel became a semi-finalist in the recent Women’s World Cup of Literature.

I’m delighted to have discovered it, just in time for #spanishlitmonth.