Last month, tens of thousands of women in Mexico took to the streets to protest the increasing trend of violence against women, chanting “Ni una más.” Not one more. Since January, hundreds of women and girls have been murdered in Mexico. One of the youngest victims was a 7-year-old girl named Fatima, whose body was found in a plastic bag the day after she disappeared from school holding a strange woman’s hand. The sense of rage and bewilderment exhibited by 8M protestors can be found in the pages of Fernanda Melchor’s complex and astonishing novel Hurricane Season, which explores the horror of femicide through a story about an imaginary village in Mexico in which a witch is found dead. Melchor, who is already known as one of Mexico’s most talented novelists, made her debut in the United States this week, with Sophie Hughes’ English language translation of the original (Temporada de Huracanes).
The novel begins with a group of boys stumbling upon the dead body of the neighborhood witch, which they find in a river, “peeping out from the yellow foam on the water’s surface: the rotten face of a corpse floating among the rushes and the plastic bags swept in from the road on the breeze, the dark mask seething under a myriad of black snakes, smiling.” Melchor then fiercely rotates through the perspectives of several different characters as the reader tries to understand who is responsible for the witch’s murder. The journey through these different perspectives is harrowing and at times, horrific. At one point we travel through the consciousness of a young pregnant teenage girl named Norma who has run away from her abusive home because she is pregnant; next, Melchor places us in the head of the stepfather who raped her.
Hurricane Season is not an easy read. Melchor, who has cited Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian, No Country For Old Men) as an influence, is just as unflinching as McCarthy in her descriptions of violence. The anti-blackness and transphobia that is depicted, as well as descriptions of sexual abuse, can be overwhelming and require reading breaks for even the strongest amongst us. For that reason, we think it is important to provide a trigger warning in this review.
Hurricane Season will prove too painful for some readers—but it’s also an important book. One that bravely takes on what Mexican feminist philosopher Sayak Valencia described as “the logic of gore capitalism” in her book, or the way in which femicide and violence in Mexico are deeply connected to neo-colonialism. In her work, Valencia explains, “gore capitalism refers to the undisguised and unjustified bloodshed that is the price the Third World pays for adhering to the increasingly demanding logic of capitalism.” Though Melchor sets her story in a made-up Mexican village, much of the book shows how these abstract forces play out in real life.
Melchor proves to be an excellent writer. An expert at syntax, she is able to craft page-long sentences that grip and propel you forward, line after line. Using a tight, third-person point-of-view, she traps you in the mind of each of her characters so that you can feel their fear and rage grow, clause upon clause. As we try to figure out who is responsible for the witch’s death, we also see how women are villainized and how their deaths are justified by the twisted logic of patriarchy and capitalism. In addition, there are very few paragraph breaks and the lack of pause leaves the reader breathless. The sentences don’t let you go—they’re as relentless as the real everyday violence that Melchor is critiquing. Hughes’ job of translating Melchor’s work must have been no easy task.
Finally, though the novel is mostly bleak, Melchor does not fail to offer some hope. In the end, she spells it out beautifully: “They say she never really died, because witches don’t go without a fight. They say at the last minute, just before those kids stabbed her, she transformed herself into something else: a lizard, a rabbit which scurried away and took cover in the heart of the bush.”
Hurricane Season, out March 31 everywhere books are read, is an unforgettable novel that will stay with the reader for a long time.