Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017
Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell
Technical issues mean I am resorting to reviewing on my mobile phone and it’s not ideal. So taking a leaf out of Schweblin’s short novella, I shall attempt to be short myself!
Amanda lies dying in hospital. A young lad, named David, sits at the bottom of her bed, prompting her to remember the events of the last few days. Because she has no idea what happened to cause her collapse and imminent demise.
As the story emerges of a vacation gone tragically awry in what turns out to be the most innocuous moment imaginable, so too does the underlying message about environmental pollution. Not in a didactic way – it’s part of the plot That it happens is sufficient for Schweblin to make the point and give the reader food for thought.
I’m not saying what happens but it does so twice, because David suffered a similar accident a few years before. Again in an innocent moment and during an inattentive split second on the part of his mother, Carla – a moment for which she has never forgiven herself. The “rescue distance” – a concept that Amanda uses to measure her ability to keep her daughter Nina safe – was effectively reduced to zero at that moment. And it was to do so again for Amanda and Nina during that holiday.
David survived though by means of some local hocus pocus, though he was never to be the same child again, according to his mother. It appears that the same procedure is to be used to save the life of Amanda’s daughter Nina. And that idea destroys Amanda’s peace of mind. Mothers never stop worrying about their kids even in the face of their own death.
So there we have it – the past (Amanda’s memories), the present (the conversation in the hospital) and (Nina’s) future all converge by one hospital bed, alongside the terrors of reality and other worldly uncanniness. Not only is it a marvel of structure and technical ability, but it is also a fine yarn, full of mystery, including one surrounding the title. Could the fever dream refer not only to the conversation between Amanda and David, but to the figure of David himself. Could it be he is just a hallucination?