This is perhaps one of the most frustrating novels I have ever read. The premise was attractive, the idea of a child capable of heinous acts and a parent's dilemma in facing the truth. A 1950s movie comes to mind, although this novel is set in Spain. Luisa, a successful author, and her eleven-year-old daughter, Elba, have a somewhat contentious relationship, the daughter entering that phase where mothers are either malleable or not to be trusted. With feelings of guilt for a botched explanation of Elba's parentage, Luisa can't decide whether to be honest with Elba or become further trapped in the deceits she has spun thus far. The result is a purgatory of unresolved emotions.
Yet this lack of clarity serves Luisa's purpose, and the protagonist she is creating in her new novel, to temporize and ruminate about the truth vs. the fantasy that absorbs most of the woman's waking hours. Hiding behind her identity as a writer, Luisa appears constitutionally incapable of speaking honestly or following a rational thought. Instead, she is indulges in stream-of-consciousness ramblings that mix fact and fiction, idealization with fragments that never quite make a whole. Either this tale is genius or an exercise in self-indulgence masquerading as a novel. It takes good deal of tedious slogging through Luisa's imagination to get to the heart of the matter. Easier to have skipped to the final pages.
The facts are curious: four children, one dies suddenly, a twin boy. The survivors of this traumatic incident meet again unexpectedly as adults with their children and the scenario plays out again. In each case, a child is dead. Who is to blame? And rather than build a cogent story, the author drags the readers through Luisa's cluttered mind- therein the genius or the foolishness. For it is necessary to endure Luisa's endless ruminations to get to the crux of her concerns, an exercise that will be thrilling to some, torture to others.
Stream-of-consciousness writing is not for the faint of heart and I discover, not for the first time, that the reward is insufficient for the mental acrobatics required in navigating Luisa's real life vs. her alter ego, Carmen, in the book she is writing. Surely there is a fine line between these worlds. But to be technical, the plot device of novel-in-process and life is not borne out and simply becomes a ploy. The deeper into Luisa's consciousness I get, the less justification for a parallel plot. I sense a sophisticated, brilliant novelist at work, but have not the endurance to appreciate the subtleties of this particular challenge. Luan Gaines/2009.