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BEFORE by Carmen Boullosa
Translated by Peter Bush
It’s not often that I finish a book only to wonder what the hell it was really about. All the more so when, on its surface, it seems pretty straightforward. But Carmen Boullosa, the celebrated Mexican poet, has me stumped with Before. In many ways it is a simple coming-of-age novel; a woman revisits her childhood and tries to piece together how it ended. It is all very run-of-the-mill. Family. Friends. School. Bullies. The trappings of upper-middle class privilege. But in the background there lurks something intangible: a great, ever-present fear that threatens to crush her. Perhaps it’s just the onset of womanhood. Perhaps it’s something more sinister.
Couched in beautiful, simple prose, the ghostly elements remain oblique and it’s easy to miss them in the day to day trivialities of girlhood. Occasionally, something will slip through the cracks. An unsettling flourish worthy of Shirley Jackson. Footsteps. A circle of pebbles. But they are rare and hardly prepare you for the revelation at the end. If only I’d have forged enough of a connection to the narrator to have felt the shock of it all.
Before by Carmen Boullosa (Tr. Peter Bush)
Deep Vellum, 2016