The title of this book refers to the hurricane that has left this town in its dilapidated, debris riddled state. And yet as the reader delves into the novel it almost feels that there is still a hurricane ravaging its way through the narrative. A hurricane made up of violence, poverty, depravity, a hurricane that is still battering away at the inhabitants.
Not one of the five boys, armed with slingshots, dressed in their swim trunks and underwear, are prepared for what they find in the water. It is the smell that hits them first. A smell so foul that it almost feels like a physical force, a barrier stopping them from pressing on any further. However, press on they do to find a corpse floating in the dirty water amongst the flotsam and debris.
The corpse turns out to be the Witch. Well this is the name given to her by the women who travel to her to have unwanted babies aborted. The men who travel to her for sex. And the boys and young men who travel to her for parties, and again sex.
The narrative revolves around a small number of characters who are all, if only loosely, connected to the Witch.
Firstly, there is Munra, who after having an accident on his motor bike and nearly losing his leg, now spends his days getting drunk and high, and lamenting that his wife, Chabela, is constantly cheating on him.
Munra’s drug addicted stepson, Luismi, believes he is in love with Norma, a 13-year-old-girl who has been sexually abused by her stepfather and is pregnant. Chabela takes her to the Witch to have the baby aborted.
Then we have Brando, who is the leader of the gang that Luismi runs with. Brando is a truly horrid character who loves bestiality and lusts after Luismi.
Each chapter is told from a different perspective, but a perspective that is connected to the Witch’s murder in some fashion. Putting these perspectives together reveals more about the murder, the Witch, the motive. This structure, along with the murder and the killer being revealed early, works extremely well.
This novel is not an easy novel to read. There is absolutely nothing positive found within the covers. The entire novel is mired in violence, depravity, murder, with all the characters stained in some way or another. The houses and streets are filth ridden, with pornographic graffiti sprayed on walls. Believe me when I say every character in this novel has problems, the kind of problems in which a light at the end of the tunnel is not only too far for the eye to see, it does not even exist. There are times when I had to have a break, a reprieve from the oppressive bleakness that permeates every page. However, I put this down to skilful writing, that produces these feelings to such a degree.
Despite this, the characters are brilliantly written with Melchor stripping away their individuality enlightening the reader to the fact that everybody in this town is in the same depraved poverty-stricken boat. The narrative is a compelling read. You just need to dig your way past the sexual depravity and the all-pervading sense of melancholy and depression, to find it.
This novel will not be for everybody, but it is cleverly written. 3.5 stars.
Fernanda Melchor is a Mexican writer. She was born in Veracruz in 1982. She is the author of the novel Falsa liebre (2013) and the chronicle book Aquí no es Miami (2013). She is a journalist graduated from the University of Veracruz and a teacher in Aesthetics and Art from the Autonomous University of Puebla.
There is a link to a GRANTA interview with Melchor here - https://granta.com/in-conversation-hughes-melchor/