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BOOK REVIEW: Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba

| 26 October 2017 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba

Portobello Books
September 2017
Hardcover, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Fiction / Literary Fiction / Translated


A dark uncanny jolt of literary perfection.

Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital. She has learned to say this flatly and without emotion, the way she says her name (Marina), her doll’s name (also Marina) and her age (seven). Her parents were killed in a car crash and now she lives in the orphanage with the other little girls. But Marina is not like the other little girls.
She thought of a number: four. She started counting from the head of the procession. One. Two. Three. Four. And the fourth one she jabbed with the stick. The caterpillar recoiled, as if it had received an electric shock, and a dark liquid bled out. Marina was transfixed, unable to pull the stick out. The rest of the procession froze, too, immediately. Marina salivated. What movement, what contact, what inaudible sound had been communicated to them, “Number four just died”? How had the news traveled from one to the next? It was strange: they stopped entirely.
In the curious, hyperreal, feverishly serious world of childhood, Marina and the girls play games of desire and warfare. The daily rituals of playtime, lunchtime and bedtime are charged with a horror; horror is licked by the dark flames of love. When Marina introduces the girls to Marina the Doll, she sets in motion a chain of events from which there can be no release.
“Tonight we’re going to play a game,” she said.
“What game, Marina?”
“Just a game I know.”
“How do you play?”
“I’ll tell you tonight.”
“Can’t you tell us now?”
“No. Tonight.”
With shades of Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro and Mariana Enriquez, Such Small Hands is a beautifully controlled tour-de-force, a bedtime story to keep readers awake.
There’s no denying that the writing here is poetic and raw and unflinching. This is a story about the horrors young girls subject each other to, be these the horrors of teasing and leaving them out, or of allowing them into the circle but treating them with an underhanded or obsessive kind of love. 
I think I had been expecting something a little more Gothic and ghostly, but instead this is a tale of finding one’s way in a world that is suddenly different and a lot more lonely than you’re used to.
Based on a incident that apparently happened in Brazil in the 1960’s, this story does look at what happens when that cruel love and obsession go too far, all while maintaining its literary vibe, and without telling the reader what happens in so many words.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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