Sea Monsters is a book of reflections and opposites: night and day, water and land, city and beach, Luisa’s teenage reveries and her parents’ adult concerns. However, the lines between them are highly permeable. Aridjis weaves into being a magical world of youthful daydreams and desires, and yet she never quite allows us to escape the other, less magical world lurking behind it: that of thieving politicians, children being picked up from school by bodyguards, and Luisa’s parents back at home, wondering where she is.
Aridjis beautifully renders the perspective of a bored, intelligent, privileged teenage girl — a decadent, solipsistic daydream. The Mexico City of the 1980s that Luisa wants to escape is a place of “thermal inversion”: a topsy-turvy world of drug-dealer poets and eccentrics such as “El Chino, who lived with his pet canary Juan El Ciego, blind since birth, for whom he fashioned nests out of discarded shoulder pads”. Luisa, however, is deadened to this feast for the imagination; she has eyes only for Tomás, “a sliver of black, slicing through the so-called calm of the morning”.
Based on an episode from Aridjis’s teenage years in Mexico, the novel’s brilliance lies in capturing so convincingly that state of adolescent restlessness. The only drawback is that this story of a teenage runaway could stand to be a bit more fun...Aridjis leaves us with the sense that Luisa’s disillusionment, like everything else, is in flux.
...the language is precise, strange, evocative and wise... Luisa aside, none of the characters ever fully comes to life – which, in a book concerned with the self-absorption of adolescence, feels eminently plausible... The novel poses far more questions than it answers, and it does so accurately and beautifully.
Aridjis scrambles your brain, not with high-modernist pyrotechnics but by the stealthier means of undermining the assumption that a novel’s words exist to advance the story. When Luisa tells us of a friend who lied about having Morrissey’s autograph or muses on “salt-water macro-organisms that share a fondness for ancient timber”, or an ex-boyfriend “who liked kicking boxes, he’d kick any box he found lying on the street”, it’s just because.
“Most voyages end in failure,” Luisa concludes. She adds that “to imagine travel is probably better than actually traveling since no journey can ever satisfy human desire.” The figure of the shipwreck looms large for Aridjis. It becomes a useful lens through which to see this book, which is self-contained, inscrutable, and weirdly captivating, like a salvaged object that wants to return to the sea.