In her novel "Delirium," the Colombian writer Laura Restrepo attempts to write about madness from the inside and outside all at once. Set primarily in Bogotá, the book operates from a simple premise: A former university professor named Aguilar returns home from a short trip to find that his wife, Agustina, has shrugged off the mantle of her sanity. It's not the first time this has happened; Aguilar now drives a van delivering pet food, a job with hours flexible enough to let him tend to Agustina and her states of mind.
But what has pushed her over the edge this time? Was it an encounter with a lover? Or perhaps some dark flood of memory? As the novel unfolds, Restrepo seeks to take us into the heart of the mystery, moving among four perspectives — Aguilar's account of his wife's breakdown; Agustina's own recollections of growing up in a house defined by silence; an extended monologue by Midas McAlister, Agustina's former lover and a financier for the drug lord Pablo Escobar; and the story of Agustina's grandfather Nicholas, who shared her condition — to develop a sense of context that tells us something about this woman whose life, we learn, is sheathed in lies.
Such a construct has potential, but difficulties arise from the outset, beginning with Restrepo's inability to bring Agustina to life. She is, or so the novel tells us, special, touched with psychic abilities — a kind of healer — but this seems contrived. Rather, she's most memorable as one of those people who drives others crazy: haughty, demanding, mercurial. Wealthy, with a powerful father and deep, if elusive, ties to Colombia's narco-underground, she drifts across the surface of existence, untouched by consequence. Even her madness seems self-indulgent, with no weight, no depth. Read More
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