By Fernanda Melchor
226 pp. Fitzcarraldo Editions. £13.
The year may yet be young, but I have absolutely no hesitancy in declaring “Hurricane Season” to be the best novel of 2020.
This book absolutely blew me away. I don’t think it’s just me, either. “Hurricane Season” is almost certain to rank at the top of readers’ “Best of 2020” lists come December. Let’s just hope that it reaches enough readers willing to take a chance on it, because this powerful book is so so worth it.
I’m not sure I’ve read a Mexican novel since Laura Esquivel’s sublime Like Water for Chocolate. Despite being set in the same country, trust me when I tell you that no two books could be more different. The Mexico depicted in Fernanda Melchor’s “Hurricane Season” is nothing like the fairytale country that appears in “Like Water for Chocolate”. Melchor’s Mexico is a vicious, brutal hell hole populated by men who hate women and, often enough, women who hate women.
Melchor’s writing consists of interminably long sentences, weighed down by more clauses than a Santa convention, and her language is as raw and dark as the story she is telling. And boy does she tell it! A novel consisting of page-long sentences and paragraphs that go on for 50, 60, 70 pages may sound punishing, but the effect they have is to suck you in and never let you go, even after you’ve turned the final page.
Melchor’s story is a testament to the femicide, the brutal murder of women, that takes place far too often in modern-day Mexico. And her story is, unfortunately, no mere fiction. The following line from Jorge Ibargüengoitia’s “The Dead Girls” serves as an epigraph for the novel:
“Some of the events described here are real. All of the characters are invented.”
Mexico has one of the highest rates of femicide in the entire world as hundreds of women are murdered every year. Just last week, the body of a 7-year-old girl who had been abducted straight from her school was found wrapped in a garbage bag. Just two days before that, a young woman was discovered to have been murdered by a boyfriend who proceeded to skin her in order to dispose of the evidence.
Photos of the young woman’s mutilated body was leaked to the media and splashed across the front pages of Mexican newspapers. One of these, the Mexican newspaper Pásala, included a grotesque Valentine’s-themed headline that read, “It was Cupid’s fault”.
These stories aren’t pleasant, but they are essential in order to turn the spotlight on horrific crimes like femicide. Because a society that fails to protect women is a failed society, a society without hope.
For writing about these issues in such a compelling, unforgettable way, Fernanda Melchor shows what a novel can do, what it should do.
In both content and style, “Hurricane Season” leaves an indelible mark. The vast majority of what constitutes literature these days wilts by comparison.