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11Mar

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor review – snakes in Eden

A Mexican gated community offers no protection in this chilling novel by the author of Hurricane Season

Midway through Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, a gang of policemen sit in a coffee shop trading misogynistic jokes. The scene’s grim power arises from its setting: Santa Teresa, a city suffering a decade-long torrent of femicides. Practically all these crimes will go unsolved.

Santa Teresa, and the murders 2666 relentlessly itemises, have their real-world counterparts in Ciudad Juárez, which stands on the border between Mexico and the US. It lies more than 1,000 miles north of Veracruz, the Mexican state where Fernanda Melchor was born, but her books are marinated in precisely the same misogyny and violence. In her extraordinary 2020 novel Hurricane Season, her first to appear in English, she relates the story of a rural murder from multiple viewpoints. Her long, fevered sentences – which carry off daredevil moves, such as shifting tense and viewpoint from one clause to the next – combine with the emotional and physical violence of the story to produce a cacophonous effect. But time spent with her writing leaves no doubt: the unholy noise she creates is the work of someone who knows exactly which notes to hit.

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