Schweblin is also fond of using shock tactics to attract the reader’s attention, yet her command of her material is scintillating. ‘Headlights’ begins, ‘When she reaches the road, Felicity understands her fate. He has not waited for her.’ She joins a host of women who have stopped on the motorway for a toilet break, only to discover their partners have left without them: ‘In the flat darkness of the countryside, there is only disappointment, a wedding dress, and a bathroom she shouldn’t have taken so long in.’ No detail is misplaced, down to the choice of name. As the story is skilfully developed, it seems that Felicity may have had a lucky escape.
Fever Dream transcended genre: part ecological morality tale, part story of maternal self-sacrifice, it skilfully combined aspects of the supernatural and witchcraft with an atmosphere of underlying horror. Mouthful of Birds, Schweblin’s new collection of short stories, demonstrates a similar blending of genres, and a comparable climate of surreal, unsettling tales...
Delving into the cryptic depths of the human psyche, this is a highly imaginative and thought-provoking collection, deftly translated by Megan McDowell.
...brings to life vivid worlds of terror and unease... Her particular genius lies in the fact that there’s something inherently savage and ungovernable about her work: each of these eerie, shocking stories crouches like a tiny feral beast, luring you in with false promises of docility, only to then sideswipe you with sharpened claws and bared fangs... Of the 20 stories included here, a few inevitably fall flat, but even those that don’t quite work have left indelible images blistered in my mind... Schweblin herself puts it best: “Horror and beauty! What a combination...”
To read Samanta Schweblin is to feel almost physically something unseen and nasty brush against your skin. Already acclaimed in Latin America for her short stories, the Argentine writer won cult critical acclaim over here for her 2017 novella Fever Dream – a scalp-prickling eco nightmare structured around a series of conversations between a woman dying in hospital and a young boy. Now comes A Mouthful of Birds, a collection of short stories. All written before Fever Dream, they inhabit the same intensely imagined uncanny territory in which everyday normality is violently ruptured in ways that infiltrate your subconscious.
Her quiet withholding has a great power to unnerve. The stories may be structured with something resembling finality, yet they never completely come to rest. (But how did she die? Where have they gone? And what’s that unnamed thing?) Whole selections of tales with clever twists can suffer diminishing returns, as the reader starts trying to pre-empt the surprises, but that doesn’t happen here – these aren’t narrative twists, so much as persistent underminings. Each story leaves your foundations just a little less firm, and over 20 pieces the effect is cumulative.
The cover of Mouthful of Birds is at once beautiful and rather disconcerting. Its carpet of butterflies is stunningly eye-catching, but there’s nevertheless something off about it – the butterflies shift in and out of focus, as does the typography, making it seem like they’re emerging from the page, although not quite in the way you’d expect. And if you look too hard, the butterflies start to seem too shiny, the colours too intense – there’s something almost threatening about the metallic sheen to their wings.