Monday, April 02, 2007

Book Review: Delirium by Laura Restrepo

Timothy Peters reviews Laura Restrepo's Delirium.

The word "delirium," the title of Colombian writer Laura Restrepo's new novel (her sixth to be translated into English), comes from the Latin delirare, to be deranged, and it describes the state of Agustina, the book's central figure. The story opens when her lover, Aguilar, discovers her in a strange hotel room in Bogotá, suffering from some kind of psychotic break, "transformed into someone terrified and terrifying, a being I barely recognized." He later adds that her eyes "filled me with fear, something disturbing, an excessive vibration that brought to mind the word delirium." It's a powerful start to this compelling, often beautiful novel, which won Spain's Alfaguara Prize in 2004 and has been widely and effusively praised by the likes of José Saramago and Gabriel García Márquez.

The story seems at first to be about the search for the transformative event that destroyed Agustina's mind. But as the novel develops, it's clear that Aguilar should not have been surprised by her mental deterioration. Agustina, a woman from the upper echelons of the deeply hierarchical strata of Bogotán society, has suffered from delusional behavior since childhood. She has long believed she can foretell the future, and she believes she can cure her ills through obsessive rituals of cleansing.

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