You may have seen over on Instagram that our editor Katherine has set herself the goal of reading her way around the world - reading a book from every country. In the first of this long running series Katherine fills us in on what she's been reading.
Samanta Schweblin's Mouthful of Birds was one of the books I picked up at my recent Mr B's Reading Spa (full review here). I'm really enjoying story story collections at the minute and find them a great way to experience an authors work. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Schweblin has published three collections of short stories and a novel as well as having multiple stories published in anthologies and magazines. Her first novel, Distancia de Rescate, translated into English as Fever Dream, won the 2015 Tigre Juan Award, and was nominated for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. In 2010 she was chosen by Granta magazine as one of the 22 best writers in Spanish under 35 years and in 2019 she was once again nominated for the Man Booker International Prize for the English translation of Mouthful of Birds.
Originally published in Spanish, Mouthful of Birds was translated into English by Megan McDowell in 2019. A haunting and mesmerizing collection of stories which burrow their way into your psyche, Mouthful of Birds features stories of women on the edge, men turned upside down, and the natural world at odds with reality. Schweblin shows us how we think life is one way, but often, it's not - our expectations for how people act, love, fear can all be upended. Each character in Mouthful of Birds must contend with the unexpected, whether a family coming apart at the seams or a child transforming or a ghostly hellscape or a murder. Schweblin's stories have been described as having the feel of a sleepless night, where every shadow and bump in the dark take on huge implications, leaving your pulse racing, and the line between the real and the strange blurs.
The stories in Mouthful of Birds are beautifully strange, disorientating and unnerving. The stories may be structured with something resembling finality, yet they never completely come to rest. My favourites include the titular story 'Mouthful of Birds', 'Butterflies' and 'The Merman'. I found this collection worked really well in terms of its flow. Usually I find it difficult to sit down and consecutively read short story collections but I did not experience this problem at all with Mouthful of Birds. Although the stories were incredibly different in terms of their subject matter, they had similar themes which stretched across the stories giving the collection a sense of flow and cohesion. Schweblin's stories almost go beyond magical realism, instead you have to suspend your sense of reality completely. I am definitely going to be searching out some more of Schweblin's fiction as well as other Argentinian authors (I already have Silvina Ocampo and Mariana Enríquez on my list!).