Laura Restrepo
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Buy *Delirium* by Laura Restrepo online

Laura Restrepo
336 pages
March 2008
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Laura Restrepo breaks down all clinical boundaries in Delirium, a novel about insanity and the fight against it. While it seems at first glance that the clearly damaged Agustina is the subject of this study, it soon becomes clear that no character is either fully safe or fully sane, each struggling to keep from cracking in a society which seems determined to do just that. Delirium is an intense novel which rarely lets up the pressure, forcing the reader to experience its discomfort firsthand. The novel contains no chapters, only space breaks, which does little to ease the tension. The result, while not a joy to read, is a powerful one.

Restreppo’s strongest achievement is her unique style, which is what lends such force to her story of insanity. She writes long, meandering sentences which can go on for as long as a quarter of a page. Get ready to read a lot of this:

It was enough that she called me an old man because I smoked Redskins, because I wore a wedding band and talked about the class struggle; it was enough that she taunted me by claiming that there was o such thing as proles—that was the word she used—and that she didn’t say, as I did, stockings instead of nylons, and brassiere instead of bra, and that she didn’t wear pants like the ones I had on, muddy-colored, made of synthetic fabric, bell-bottomed.
By the time you finish reading this sentence, you want to pause in exasperation, especially as the longer strings denature into short but exhaustive supplements to the general idea and atmosphere the sentence conveys. But there’s no rest in sight—Restrepo plows the narration forward, forcing you into the next sentence with little relief. As Restrepo’s focus is on sculpting an insane world, not a world with insane people in it, her writing succeeds. But this kind of reading gets tiring, and the few shorter sentences in the text do little to balance it out. Reading may begin to feel laborious, which quickly becomes banal, deflating the intense atmosphere lest one take frequent breaks.

Restrepo further builds her atmosphere through shifting and unreliable narration. The story, first told through Agustina’s husband’s eyes, addresses her directly, as if in second-person, despite the rest of the text being a first-person narrative to an invisible audience. Then the narrator switches to Agustina and others imperceptibly till about half a sentence in. This technique, while less prone to becoming tiring, is also less effective as it often treads the line between creating a confusing environment and outright confusing readers.

Delirium still manages to have a powerful impact on the reader, and Restrepo’s writing could be called playful were it not so dark. But this is a novel which demands much patience and a willingness to accept confusion to reap its full effects.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Max Falkowitz, 2008

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