By Fernanda Melchor, and and, Sophie Hughes
Buy this book from hive.co.uk to support The Reading Agency and local bookshops at no additional cost to you.
The Witch is dead. After a group of children playing near the irrigation canals discover her decomposing corpse, the village of La Matosa is rife with rumours about how and why this murder occurred.
As the novel unfolds in a dazzling linguistic torrent, Fernanda Melchor paints a moving portrait of lives governed by poverty and violence, machismo and misogyny, superstition and prejudice.
Written with an infernal lyricism that is as affecting as it is enthralling, HURRICANE SEASON, Melchor’s first novel to appear in English, is a formidable portrait of Mexico and its demons, brilliantly translated by Sophie Hughes.Tweet
Resources for this book
Review below by MARGARET HOLMES
This book is a narrative that rages hurricane-like ,fists raised and railing at the gods ,through its pages, a furious paced dialogue ,ranting at the reader. In recounting the events in a small Mexican village early one summer, the author shares with the reader not just the what, but the heart-breaking whys of all the protagonists.
It tells the story of the" Witch" and her influence over the inhabitants of the village ,first by inheriting her mother's role as wise woman to the women of the village and then by becoming the subject of many rumours including , treasure in her house ,graduating to the wholesale corruption of the teenagers of the village with depraved orgies ,over which she presides.
But the book begins with the Witch is dead, dead in a ditch outside the village with her throat cut, horribly beaten so you know the ending and the perpetrators, but there is a very long way to go in between.
This is a very tough read, the language is graphic as are the unflinching descriptions of debauchery, degradation, bestiality ,appalling sexual abuse, femicide, it's all there in a brutal, relentless outpouring.
But it is a truly astonishing work !
In front of you is the fiction, detailing lives too desolate even to be despaired of ,hopelessness and grinding poverty. The only choices to be made in their lives to solve problems are all desperate ,end of game, no- choices, and yet, the language can also be beautiful and lyrical, a testament also to the incredible feat of translation by Sophie Hughes.
Surrounding you is the bigger picture , it is a focus on the criminality of the state in which they live, where the very people who are supposed to look after them are the ones responsible for the terrible lives that the people find themselves living. Officials can kill maim steal and torture at will like godless overlords, and at the end of that line are these poverty-stricken villagers, with their booze and drugs ,superstition , ignorance and hopelessness.
The reality is a flint-edged rage at the injustices piled on to the many by the few.
Is it an enjoyable read? For myself I would say that it is painful and harrowing, the range of human and inhuman activity is a feat of imagination, but it is also deeply compelling in its sheer awfulness.
And so, I would still recommend living through this extraordinary reading experience to come out of it the other side feeling you have read the literary equivalent of modern art ,holding up a mirror to the world and sending it a message with fearlessness . A challenging and memorable read.
This book is short and definitely not sweet; it’s a difficult, heartrending and torrential read, in its portrayal of machismo violence, and enforced poverty, that overshadows a Mexican village.
Children playing by a river find the dead body of the local 'witch' and the stories about what happened to her and why that inevitably follow, unveil the broken lives of the villagers.
This book could be about anywhere in what we in the west call the 'third world', where superstition and myth colour the lives of those whose existence is overshadowed by the greed and hypocrisy of the rich and powerful.
Hard to put down, and although you really long for it to end, this book stays with you long after reading and haunts you.
DUE TO INTENSE RELENTLESSSS AND THE BRUTALITY
The storyline explores the violent mythologies of a Mexican village. Children discovering a corpse and the intense investigation which followed highlights onslaught of horror squalor and the treatment of women and young innocent girls unable to follow their ambitions.
I struggled with the storyline and therefore did not feel much connection with the characters such intense relentless brutality, with explicit language.
The Mexican writer investigates the complicity between Mythology, Fairy tales and feminising and a portrait of Mexico and its demons of prejudice corruption and sexual terrorism and voyeurism which is associated by poverty and deprivation.
I found this a difficult read however I do understand the complexities and challenges of how class cultures corruption racism and greed can dominate and create social division on the vulnerable.
Delighted to see this on the Booker International shortlist - I had picked it as a contender when I read it back in January - and a strong contender to win
Temporada de huracanes by Fernanda Melchor has been translated as Hurricane Season by Sophie Hughes, and published by the wonderful Fitzcarraldo Editions.
This is the fourth translation from Hughes I've read, the others being:
The allegorical but visceral The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse by Iván Repila
The Booker International shortlisted by Alia Trabucco Zerán
and by Giuseppe Caputo
and this maintains the excellent quality . Indeed the importance and quality of the book - both in the original and translation - is evidenced by the blurbs from Claire-Louise Bennett, Jon McGregor, Ben Lerner, Alvaro Enrique, Samanta Schweblin, Yuri Herrera, Alia Trabucco Zeran and Jesse Ball, who comments: ‘Fernanda Melchor is part of a wave of real writing, a multi-tongue, variform, generationless, decadeless, ageless wave, that American contemporary literature must ignore if it is to hold on to its infantile worldview.’ El Pais recently featured the book as one of the 21 best novels, in Spanish or translated to Spanish of the 21st century to date (https://elpais.com/cultura/2019/11/26/babelia/1574767429_166094.html) - the top 2 being 2666 and Austerlitz.
In an interview (https://www.dw.com/en/nightmarish-realism-fernanda-melchor-on-the-haunting-voices-of-hurricane-season/a-49252372) Melchor explains the origin of the novel, which originally she'd intended as a non-fictional novel in the footsteps of In Cold Blood, but which she later decided to turn to her own fictional story:
Fernanda Melchor: When I was living in Veracruz, I worked for a social communications office of my university, and we got all the local and regional papers from Veracruz. Much of the news had to do with violence and crime in the area — crimes of passion committed by normal people. And I saw this small newspaper chronicle that talked about a person found dead in a canal in a small village next to where I was.
I was surprised because the journalist told the story in a way that made it sound normal to think that a crime could be motivated by witchcraft… The murderer had killed the witch because she was doing witchcraft to make him fall back in love with her. I was stunned by this and I just wanted to write the story behind the crime.
See also https://www.cunning-folk.com/book-club-posts/in-conversation-with-fernanda-melchor
The crime of this novel is revealed in the opening pages - the murder of a women known as The Witch:
"They called her the Witch, the same as her mother; the Young Witch when she first started trading in curses and cures, and then, when she wound up alone, the year of the landslide, simply the Witch. If she’d had another name, scrawled on some time-worn, worm-eaten piece of paper maybe, buried at the back of one of those wardrobes that the old crone crammed full of plastic bags and filthy rags, locks of hair, bones, rotten leftovers, if at some point she’d been given a first name and last name like everyone else in town, well, no one had ever known it, not even the women who visited the house each Friday had ever heard her called anything else. She’d always been you, retard, or you, asshole, or you, devil child, if ever the Witch wanted her to come, or to be quiet, or even just to sit still under the table so that she could listen to the women’s maudlin pleas, their snivelling tales of woe, their strife, the aches and pains, their dreams of dead relatives and the spats between those still alive, and money, it was almost always the money, but also their husbands and those whores from the highway, and why do they always walk out on me just when I’ve got my hopes up, they’d blub, what was the point of it all, they’d moan, they might as well be dead, just call it a day, wished they’d never been born, and with the corner of their shawls they’d dry the tears from their faces, which they covered in any case the moment they left the Witch’s kitchen, because they weren’t about to give those bigmouths in town the satisfaction of going around saying how they’d been to see the Witch to plot their revenge against so-and-so, how they’d put a curse on the slut leading their husband astray, because there was always one, always some miserable bitch in town spinning yarns about the girls who, quite innocently, minding their own business, went to the Witch’s for a remedy for indigestion for that dipshit at home clogged up to his nuts on the kilo of crisps he ate in one sitting, or a tea to keep tiredness at bay, or an ointment for tummy troubles, or, let’s be honest, just to sit there awhile and lighten the load, let it all out, the pain and sadness that fluttered hopelessly in their throats."
The elder Witch initially gained her reputation when her husband Manolo Condes (she was his 2nd wife) died - ostensibly of a heart attack but his step-sons were vocally unconvinced, only to swiftly meet an untidy end themselves:
"An evil woman, it turned out, because, who knows how, some say with the devil in her ear, she had learned of a herb that grew wild up in the mountains, almost at the summit, among the old ruins that, according to those suits from the government, were the ancient tombs of men who’d once lived up there, the first dwellers, there even before those filthy Spaniards who, from their boats, took one look at all that land spread out before them and said finders keepers, this land belongs to us and to the Kingdom of Castile; and the ancients, the few who were left, had to run for the hills and they lost everything, right down to the stones of their temples, which ended up buried in the mountainside in the hurricane of ’78, what with the landslide, the avalanche of mud that swamped more than a hundred locals from La Matosa and the ruins where those herbs were said to grow, the herbs that the Witch boiled up into an odourless, colourless poison so imperceptible that even the doctor from Villa concluded Manolo had died of a heart attack, but those pig-headed sons of his swore blind that he’d been poisoned, and later everyone blamed the Witch for the sons’ deaths too, because on the very same day they buried their father, the devil came and took them on the highway, on their way to the cemetery in Villa, heading up the funeral procession; the pair of them died crushed under a stack of metal joists that slid off the truck in front; blood-smeared steel all over the next day’s papers, the whole thing more than a little creepy because no one could explain how such a thing could have happened, how those joists had come loose from the fastening cable and smashed through the windscreen, skewering them both, and there was no shortage of people who put two and two together and blamed the Witch, who said the Witch had put a curse on them, that the evil wench had sold her soul to the devil in exchange for special powers, all to hold on to the house and surrounding land, and it was around then that the Witch locked herself away in the house never to leave again, not by day or night, perhaps for fear the Condes were waiting to take their revenge, or maybe because she was hiding something, a secret she couldn’t let out of her sight, something in the house that she refused to leave unguarded, and she grew thin and pale and just looking her in the eyes sent a chill through you because it was clear she’d gone mad, and it was the women of La Matosa who brought her food in exchange for her help preparing their lotions and potions, concoctions brewed either with the herbs that the Witch grew in her vegetable garden or with the wild plants she sent the women to forage on the mountainside, back when there was still a mountainside to speak of."
Rumours spreads that the Witch had, in her large house, inherited from Manolo, "hidden somewhere, or so the story went, the money, a shedload of gold coins that Don Manolo had inherited from his father and never banked, not forgetting the diamond, the diamond ring that no one had ever seen, not even the sons, but that was said to hold a stone so big it looked fake."
Following her mother's death in a hurricane-induced landslide, the Young Witch inherits her clientele and sorcery, but also hosts wild drug-fuelled parties with the local youth.
At the novel’s heart are four single-paragraph chapters, with labyrinthine sentences, each written from the perspective of one of the characters involved in the events:
- Yesenia, a young woman, who saw her drug addicted cousin Luismi carrying the Witch from her house with one of his friends, Brando.
- Munra, Luismi’s stepfather, who drove the them away
- Norma, a girl who fled her abusive stepfather and moved in with Luismi
Yesenia reports what she sees to the police, who are more interested in finding what happened to the rumoured treasure than what happened to the victim. And the story the characters tells is one of violence, sexual promiscuity, abuse, drugs and poverty, but also one where the grim reality of modern life is intertwined with folklore.
4.5 stars rounded up to 5
After my initial shock it has taken me a few days to write a review, I needed to sit back and think. The writing is very powerful, and brilliantly translated by Sophie Hughes.
Shortlisted for 2020 International Booker Prize.
This harrowing read is set in a small Mexican village, it is a story of violence, corruption, greed, sex, drugs, rape and incest. It encapsulates a violent world, a disgusting and horrible world, a world where no one escapes, a world of never-ending nightmares. The heat and the dirt of the this small town seeps through the pages.
The structure of the book is excellent, the story of the murder of the ‘Witch’ is told in an almost folklore style. The characters tell their own story, their own downward spiral. The author pulls together the characters, revelling the part they play in the evil plot and murder, you know there is going to be no happy endings. The most tragic story is of Norma the pregnant 13-year-old fleeing her stepfather, she dreams of throwing herself off a cliff, she too falls into the tangled web.
I would never have picked this book up, it just shows it is sometimes worth just getting out of your comfort zone and trying something different.
The format of the book is easy to read – long, very descriptive sentences without paragraphs seems to make it flow quickly. However, there were times when I found some of the narrative so descriptive that it made me squirm and recoil! Often, in my opinion, sexually crude and explicit with profane language.
Set in Mexico, this book has not done the Mexican tourist industry any favours! Based in and around an area called Palo Gacho – Villa Diamante to be precise, definitely is not a place that sparkles!
I understand that corruption is widespread in Mexico but this novel highlights that virtually every person and family has been affected in some way by the Narco State and the extreme power imbalances that it creates. The Casta System, although abolished, still seems to add to these imbalances in the community as well. It all leads to a storyline about individual characters whose lives are affected and intertwined by these levels of poverty and violence, including femicide. Religion, one of which is ‘witchcraft’, is also an important part of each character’s lives. It is the witch’s role that is the main thread in this novel along with the heat which precedes the hurricane season.
Towards the end of the book there is a sentence that starts…’They say the heat’s driven the locals crazy…’ I agree that the characters are and I almost feel that I must be a little crazy also to finish a book that was out of my comfort zone! Having said that, I was glad that I persevered to see how it all ended and to find out what was behind the locked door in the witch’s house! A sobering but inevitable conclusion.
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor.
This title certainly highlights the struggles that some smaller and perhaps isolated communities still do have. The hierarchy of the decision makers be it through the local criminal gangs with brute force, corruptive police and government officials is shocking and then throw in the chores and expectations of daily living for those families trying to make ends meet. It is graphic and blunt but I do feel that it works within the environment of the community that the book represents and shares with the reader.
The characters are all struggling in one way or another be it for power and control, escapism or freedom from ridicule and seeking acceptance. Their day to day activities and or the grand schemes are made with little or no planning which leads to disastrous consequences for some. The story sometimes feels almost 'teenage' maybe because of the basic decision making or logic from the young characters, the lack of projecting the outcomes or possibly the 'so what' who cares attitude. Then the fantasy element from the witch and her potions and curses, the high adult content and slur or disgust towards some living within the community.
Is the title something that you would be happy to suggest for someone to read, I think maybe that this title is left to be discovered independently.
I liked the honesty no nonsense - say it how it is feel.
Really liked the Spanish / Mexican descriptions of local life.
Although quite graphic it was easy to read and kept you engaged, it was like witnessing one mighty big argument.
Highlights the lack of acceptance for LGBT people within these smaller/ isolated communities.
I think the title does have energy and transports you back in time to a place where the strongest people survive.
Sometimes I found the author was repeating events already read.
The LGBT community not depicted in the best light which may cause offence to some and not really a true reflection of same sex relationships. (I wasn't offended)