Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (trans. Sophie Hughes) — Silvia Rothlisberger

Hurricane Season has been described as murder mystery, horror fiction, noir detective, political: it is all of them in its own original way. The narrators of this novel have a raging voice, each of them carrying a hurricane inside; as devastating as a hurricane so are their lives rife with poverty, superstition, gossip and lack of opportunities.

It begins with the discovery of a corpse floating in the canal of La Matosa, a small village in Mexico forgotten by the state and society. The corpse belongs to a woman known as the Witch –possibly a transvestite– who lived in a house she inherited from her mother, also known as the Witch. Rumour has it she kept gold coins in a secret place. This murder mystery is revealed throughout the book as we read in each chapter the testimonies and thoughts of the people involved with the Witch in one way or another. The people that the Witch used to hang out with: women who would come to her house during the day for love potions, for clandestine abortions, or just to talk about their problems “because the Witch listened, and nothing seemed to shock her.” At night, a group of young men would come to the Witch’s notorious parties fuelled with drugs, alcohol and costumes.

Hookers and hussies … the only women who… dared to visit the Witch at home, in that hovel hidden among the crops; who dared to rap on the door until the mad shrew, dressed head to toe in black, poked her head out from a half-open door. And once there they would beg for her help to cook up one of her concoctions, the stuff that the woman in town harped on about: potions to pin down the men, to really knock them off their feet, and indeed potions to ward the bastards off for good; potions that wiped their own memories, or that directed every drop of their destructive potential into the seed that those bastards had left in the women’s bellies before scuttling back to their trucks; or those other tinctures, stronger still, which they say could purge hearts of the fatuous allure of suicide.”

As the story moves forward, the different narrators paint a collective story of state corruption, social disadvantages, everyday machismo, normalised misogyny, domestic violence, drug trade, prostitution, teenage pregnancy, child porn. To the people from La Matosa, this is what they know, this is their normal, their everyday; that is why they tell these injustices in a casual way, so openly, they do not try to hide or lighten their words they just tell it like it is. There is a rage in them, a rage fuelled by the oppressive atmosphere of a lawless town.

The different narrators enter and exit without preamble, streaming rivers of thoughts and events that carry the reader through shocking experience after shocking experience.

Each chapter consists of a single paragraph, and a paragraph can be 61 pages long. The different narrators enter and exit without preamble, streaming rivers of thoughts and events that carry the reader through shocking experience after shocking experience. In the acknowledgments, Melchor mentions Gabriel García Marquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch, a book that is structured in a similar way. In Garcia Marquez’s book, this structure is a device to show the experiences of a community oppressed by a dictator; in Melchor’s Hurricane Season this structure is a device to show the rage of a community oppressed by poverty and state corruption.

Based in real life events in Mexico as the quote from the very beginning of the book, by Jorge Ibarguengoitia, states: “some of the events described here are real. All of the characters are invented”. Melchor explained in an interview that she read in a local newspaper about the murder of a person known as the witch in a nearby town. As a journalist she wanted to go and investigate this murder to write a non-fiction book, but the danger that journalists face in Mexico would have made of this project a lethal one for Melchor, who instead decided to write fiction inspired by the real story.

Fernanda Melchor has won a place in the shortlist of the 2020 Man Booker International Prize with this novel, translated from its Spanish original (Temporada de Huracanes) by Sophie Hughes. Melchor also won the 2019 Anna Seghers Award for its translation into German and when it was first published in Mexico in 2017 it established Melchor as one of the most important and authentic young voices of the region.

In Melchor’s acceptance speech of the 2019 Anna Seghers-Preis, she said: “the stories I tell in my novels are also peppered with violence and horror, populated by characters desperate to flee the oppressive realities in which they are trapped. But I also wanted to capture the flame of hope that gutters in the heart of all human beings,” which perfectly encapsulates what Melchor did in Hurricane Season.

Fernanda Melchor was born in Veracruz, Mexico in 1982. She is widely recognised as one of the most exciting new voices of Mexican literature. In 2018, she won the PEN Mexico Award for Literary and Journalistic Excellence and in 2019 the German Anna-Seghers-Preis and the International Literature Award for Hurricane Season. She is currently shortlisted for the 2020 Man Booker International Prize.  Hurricane Season is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. @fffmelchor

Sophie Hughes has translated novels by several contemporary Latin American and Spanish authors, including Laia Jufresa and Rodrigo Hasbún. Her translations of Alía Trabucco Zerán’s The Remainder and Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season were shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. @hughes_sophie

Silvia Rothlisberger is a writer and journalist based in London. She hosts a radio show on Resonance 104.4 called Literary South. She is a contributing editor at Minor Literature[s], with a focus on Latin American literature and culture. @silviarothlis