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Fernanda Melchor's new novel will leave you gasping for breath

Paradais - 'Paradise' - is the cynical title of Fernanda Melchor's new, staggering novel. The world the Mexican writer conjures up is more like hell.

Polo, a dark-skinned 16-year-old boy living with his mother in a small Mexican village, has rather screwed up his life so far. He has been kicked out of school, smokes and drinks himself to death, and his mother, who does not fail to pour out her unvarnished anger on him every day, has arranged a job as a gardener for him at the luxury resort Paradais, but makes him hand over all his money to pay the debts and the household. The two people Polo looked up to, his grandfather and cousin, are dead and out of his life, respectively. Polo is lonely, unhappy, angry and desperate. To make matters worse, he also has the appearance of being the one who kicked his 'cat in heat' of a cousin, Zorayda, pregnant.

Searching for oblivion

No wonder, then, that Polo wants nothing more than oblivion and is only too happy to accept liquor and cigarettes from Franco, a "pudgy pig", who is staying with his grandparents in Paradais. Although the anaesthetic is never great enough to feel truly liberated from the hell his life has become, and only a few hours after he has descended jet-lagged on the thin mat on the living room floor that is supposed to represent his bed, the alarm clock rings again to announce the new working day.

Mexican writer Fernanda Melchor ©Antonio Cruz

Meanwhile, Franco does not stop sawing through Polo about in what ways he would like to fuck his rich and sexy neighbour Marian. Fantasies that take an increasingly dark form. As if dragged into a swamp from which there is no escape, a swirling mixture of poverty, violence, anger and hopelessness drives Polo on his way to a pitch-black climax.

The savage, raw, fiery, relentless and vulgar language and the endlessly long, rambling sentences with which Melchor tells her story recall her previous Booker International Prize-nominated book Hurricane season. In terms of theme, too, this concise novel is close to her previous successful novel. A safe choice perhaps, or perhaps Melchor now has few other colours on her palette except fifty shades of black. But again, her style is breathtaking. When there is finally a point somewhere, Melchor lets her reader catch her breath for only a moment before the next unparalleled full sentences roll in like a tsunami from the pages. A gasp of air and there you go again, head-first, until the inexorable end.

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Fernanda Melchor, Paradais (160 p.), translated from the Spanish by Lisa Thunissen, Wereldbibliotheek, €21.99

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A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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