by Guadalupe Nettel
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Pub Date 22 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 1 Jul 2022
Still Born, Guadalupe Nettel’s fourth novel, explores one of life’s most consequential decisions – whether or not to have children – with her signature charm and intelligence. Alina and Laura are independent and career-driven women in their mid-thirties, neither of whom have built their future around the prospect of a family. Laura has taken the drastic decision to be sterilized, but as time goes by Alina becomes drawn to the idea of becoming a mother. When complications arise in Alina’s pregnancy and Laura becomes attached to her neighbour’s son, both women are forced to reckon with the complexity of their emotions. In prose that is as gripping as it is insightful, Guadalupe Nettel explores maternal ambivalence with a surgeon’s touch, carefully dissecting the contradictions that make up the lived experiences of women.
‘Nettel is one of the leading lights in contemporary Latin American literature. ... I envy how naturally she makes use of language; her resistance to ornamentation and artifice; and the almost stoic fortitude with which she dispenses her profound and penetrating knowledge of human nature.’
— Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive
‘I love the work of Guadalupe Nettel, one of Mexico’s greatest living writers. Her fiction is brilliant and original, always suffused with sensuality and strange science.’
— Paul Theroux, author of The Mosquito Coast
‘Nettel is free. She has succeeded in creating an audacious narrative style all her own, a singular and fearless way of being in the world. An essential voice of the new Latin American literature.’
— Enrique Vila-Matas, author of Mac's Problem
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 38 members
This is a book which explores maternity and motherhood along a whole spectrum, from the woman who doesn't want motherhood but who still finds herself drawn to the child of a troubled neighbour, to the woman who changes her mind and gets pregnant only to be faced with far more than she ever imagined. It's one of the most nuanced treatments I've read of what has become an increasingly contentious topic and Nettel avoids simplistic positions for a variety of grey areas - and it's this nuance and the avoidance of uncomplicated attitudes and stances that made this such involving reading.
The voice of Laura, the narrator, is one with which I instantly bonded - the writing is clear and unflashy but also intimate and quietly enthralling. A wonderfully fluent translation too by Rosalind Harvey - just a shame that there was less of a sense of Mexico City than I expected: this book could have been transported to London, say, without having to change a thing.
Even before finishing this I was checking out Nettel's back catalogue: this may be hard reading at times but I found it utterly gripping.
One of the most delicate and thought-provoking takes on the theme of motherhood, Nettel's novel exceeded my expectations.
This book is amazing. I finished it this morning and I'm still thinking about the entwined lives of the characters. 5 stars without a doubt.
Delicate, beautiful, troubling, brave, devastating: I loved it.
Maybe some of the metaphors are a little on the nose but somehow they work; it explores so many aspects of motherhood and caretaking, I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a while.
My thanks to Fitzcarraldo Editions and NetGalley for the ARC.
Still Born follows Laura and Alina, long-time friends who both agree that they don’t want children. Until Alina changes her mind.
A very interior book about motherhood, with a small cast of characters. It’s about the choices that you make, and the life that happens regardless of these. The relationships between the characters are real and messy but tender and heart-warming.
Nettel is a gorgeous writer who manages to completely immerse you in her world. They manage to take serious, heavy matters and turn them into a hopeful, inspiring novel.
This is a beautiful book that I adored and will be recommending to everyone.
The novel ponders on the topic of motherhood and the plot is thought provoking. The story entwines the lives of the characters and how motherhood touches upon them. Totally beautiful and a 5 star read.
Incredibly poignant and thought-provoking. This is a novel that will stay with you long after the final chapter.
Stunning narrative . Felt like having my feelings plucked off me feather by feather from start to end. And/but then embalmed in a surprising tender love at the end of it all . 'Birds' appears frequently in the novel as a symbolism/otherwise a lot so I thought that felt like an apt way to describe the book . Blood, life, death, pain, love, and all the in-betweens. Motherhood, and childhood. What is the right way? There is none. Choose life and love above all. I love Nettel's previous books, but this might be a strong favourite.
This is an elegant, thought-provoking take on motherhood - and the challenges of deciding whether or not to have a baby - the dilemma of wanting to be a mother but also be oneself and whether you can be both.
Laura and Alina are independent, career-driven women who don’t want children - until one of them does. It tackles themes of birth, family, friendship, responsibility and vulnerability and is sensitively written but also unflinching.
Wise and deeply feminist, it’s written in a clear, compelling way - I found it moving, fascinating and it’s really stayed with me. I loved it - well worth reading.
Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC. All views are my own.
“Just as someone who, without ever having
contemplated suicide, allows themselves to be seduced by the abyss from the top of a
skyscraper, I felt the lure of pregnancy.”
My favourite book so far this year.
Beautifully insightful and timely, Still Born is the story of 2 career-driven, adventurous friends in their mid-30s, living in Mexico City. Laura chooses to be sterilised while Alina is desperate to become pregnant with her husband. Soon, both women find themselves in unexpectedly complex motherhood-dilemmas.
Heart-gripping, real, and hugely thought-provoking, I find myself still staring into space trying to absorb the unexpected emotional whirlwinds that fall upon these women.
It really is a beautiful book. Wonderfully written (/translated) and researched, the facts about motherhood in nature, genetics and medical marvels all add to the addictive quality of how quickly you want to devour each page. It definitely hurts in places but it’s a life-affirming kind of pain.
“Who has not plunged headlong into an irreconcilable love affair knowing it has no future, and clinging to a glimmer of hope as flimsy as a blade of grass?”
I loved this, I don’t think I have connected with a book as much as this in a long time. Heart-breaking, so much real emotion, and completely thought-provoking that I am still thinking about this book and the questions it has raised in me, about me, this is wonderfully written and beautiful book. It just covers so much like how even if you choose to become a mum, how much is free choice , when society instills and almost brainwashes reproduction, motherhood and how it’s natural, I also loved how it focuses on loss and society’s treatment of disability. I thought the ending was fantastic and symbolic of life itself, we don’t get closure and again that left me thinking
Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
Still Born, Guadalupe Nettel, tr. Rosalind Harvey
🤰patriarchal mentality among OB-GYNs
Profoundly moving, Nettel’s latest novel explores the sorrows of motherhood.
The narrator Laura is a feminist and a PhD student living in Mexico City. She vehemently rejects motherhood, but her attention is drawn to mothers all around her. Fate plays cruel jokes on her best friend Alina, who gets sucked into a vortex of fertility treatments and ob-gyn visits. Her neighbour Doris, a ghost of her former self, struggles as a single mother. Even pigeons are nesting and brooding on Laura’s balcony, but she finds their ugly hatchling uncanny. Meanwhile, her own mother expresses conflicting views on motherhood and drifts away.
There is a mix of tenderness and misery, resilience and regret. Motherhood is full of unexpected turns, bringing mixed blessings at best, unspeakable ordeals at worst. What if you love your child, but also feel disoriented by this little stranger? How do you live with a child’s illness and tantrums? How do you accept help from a substitute mother, a replacement of yourself? What if you cannot cope?
These women endure physical and emotional strain, cope with shaky marriages and medical nightmares, and their personal identities are suppressed when their maternal roles set in. But they find support in female friendship - other women who tacitly understand and lend a helping hand. The richly layered narrative sometimes also branch out into related topics ranging from rare genetic diseases to brood parasitism.
Nettel’s writing is incisive, nuanced, empathetic. It was a real rollercoaster of emotions for me, as I share many of Laura’s fears and doubts. I am glad that it tackles the stigma of maternal unhappiness and the impossibility of backing out once the choice has been made. Even if women choose to become mothers, to what extent is there ‘free’ choice when social norms dictate that women should reproduce and constantly propagate an idealised version of motherhood? I know this story will stay with me for a long time.
Thank you @fitzcarraldoeditions for the ARC.
❝From now on there would be an invisible rift between us: she approved of maternity has a desirable fate for women, whereas I had undergone surgery to avoid it.❞
❝He eats up all my energy. It’s as if he needs to suck my life force in order to grow. I know that I love him with all my heart, that he matters more than anything else in the world to me, but it’s been days since I can remember what that love feels like.❞
❝We have the children that we have, not the ones we imagined we’d have, or the ones we’d have liked, and they’re the ones we end up having to contend with.❞
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