Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor trans. by Sophie Hughes

This is an absorbing and overwhelming novel. The flow and rhythm of the prose sucks you in and holds you enthralled. It is very difficult to put down as each new character brings a new perspective upon what happened to the witch found mutilated and floating in the canal near the village of La Matosa in Mexico. Who was the witch? How did she die? Was she even a she?

The relentless nature of the prose that flows without paragraphs, without a sense of breath almost, mirrors that of the oppressive sense of hopelessness that presses in on the characters. This is a village with few prospects for its inhabitants. Money seems to be made from living near the highway, from leaving and heading to the oilfields in the North, or from selling beer, drugs or sex. There is a desperation bred and fed by capitalist desires in a place where jobs are scarce.

The witch is also a perfect metaphor for the confusion and conflation of old and new. She embodies the old ways, the herbal remedies, a culture struggling to survive within the new infrastructure and industry. But she is also a man dressed as a woman, desperate to sing karaoke and get high. She offers both old and new forms of escapism, threatening masculinity not only with her abortion potions but also with her sexuality. She pushes against the hegemony of church and state and it makes sense that even when we meet her alive we already know she is going to die.

Teasing out the reasons and circumstances behind her death gives us such a horrifying and painful portrayal of the people of La Matosa it feels like a song of desperate protest. This isn’t how people should be forced to live. 

Hurricane Season is an epic and fittingly ends with a gravedigger talking to the dead, one of whom we presume is the mutilated witch: ‘you had to talk to the bodies as you buried them: because in his experience things worked better that way; because that way the dead person felt that a voice was guiding them, telling them how things worked, and this seemed to console them a little, to stop them going off and hassling the living’ (page 225). I don’t think I’ll spoil anything by letting you know that the book ends with the Grandfather letting the dead know that death, or the light in the sky, is ‘the way out of this hole’. Whether you believe in life after death, you reach the end agreeing that death seems to be the only let up for these characters whose lives are so filled with longing, desperation and confusion.

Despite the very depressing message, the novel is gripping, the language impressive in its ability to twist and turn through so many different characters all of whom hold some kernel of beauty in their despair. Quite a phenomenal book. 

I’ll be reviewing Real Life by Brandon Taylor next.