I know, I’m either all reviews at once or i’m a ghost in the blogging world, but today I’m here to tell you why you need to put this get-under-your-skin debut on to your TBR pile as soon as possible. My thanks goes to Jimena, from Daunt Books Publishing for sending me a review copy of Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro, translated by Sophie Hughes. This gripping 190 page read is due to be published on the 25th of this month – you can grab a copy here!
Brenda Navarro was born in 1982. She studied Sociology and Feminist Economics at UNAM in Mexico City. She has a Masters in Gender Studies from the University of Barcelona. In 2016 she founded #EnjambreLiterario a group of writers who promote writing by women. She researches and writes about women’s labor, women’s access to culture, digital rights and humanities, and migration. Empty Houses is her debut novel. She lives in Madrid.
“A literary sensation in Mexico, Empty Houses is an explosive debut novel about maternal desire, pain and abduction that asks: is motherhood the greatest crime of all? Empty Houses takes place in the aftermath of a child’s disappearance. In the days that follow, his mother is distraught. She is tormented by his absence but also by her own ambivalence: did she even want him in the first place? In a working-class neighborhood on the other side of Mexico City another woman protects her stolen child. As the novel switches between the voices of these women, Empty Houses explores the desires, regrets and social pressures of motherhood – from the mother who lost her child to the new mother who risked everything to take him.”
“Daniel disappeared three months, two days and eight hours after his birthday.”
The opening line of Brenda Navarro’s debut, Empty Houses grabs our attention with the fear that all mothers harbour. A missing child. The setting is Mexico, the first voice we are introduced to is Daniel’s mother, an unknown woman, one that begins to inhabit the guilt and loss of a woman whose flesh and blood has been ripped away from her, from an area filled with innocence and expectance – the children’s park. Our first protagonist lives in a household, with a relationship that appears to be a surrogate for the one that she wishes she had, living with another child that is not hers and therefore becomes the object of a somewhat revulsion. How does this child, one she will never love like her own get the chance to still be with her? As the mother begins to revert deeper within herself we become to understand her initial feelings of becoming pregnant, her questioning of whether she even wanted this child. She believes that this tragic disaster is because of her not initially wanting her son. The themes of this side of the dual storyline is very much motherhood and the guilt we harbour as our child’s biggest protector, when they’re in our womb and when we bring them into the world. I sympathised with this character, how could you not? This begins to gnaw away at her relationships, she becomes a shell of her past self – when we become parents that becomes many of our main identities, when that identity is stripped away, who are we?
The second storyline is another woman, one who yearns to become a mother so desperately that she steals another woman’s. Again, we find this person present within a relationship isn’t particularly healthy and she believes that bearing a child will give her an identity, one that will tighten her grip on the man she loves while also giving her a purpose that is societally approving. The antagonist in this plotline apparently, may not be the protagonist at all but playing to the stereotypes of women. The trauma that this character experiences ties to her obsession of motherhood, but also as she commits one of the worst crimes, she steals a child but bit by bit this perfect life she imagines begins to unravel and it’s really quite interesting to see how two women, with completely different lives and how they may also be more similar than they believe. A look at motherhood from both sides of the track, with multiple themes sewn through it, such as domestic violence, toxic relationships and obviously what is expected of women.
Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro is translated from by Sophie Hughes with such a detailed approach, her ability to grasp the mirrored voices of both women in their relationship strife and maternal urges is on point – coupled with the compulsive storyline, the excellent writing and the on point translation, I consumed this book in one greedy sitting.
If you’re in the market for a great piece of literature from the new voice in Mexican works, this is absolutely the read for you!