We have now reopened subscriptions to the EU

Still Born

Guadalupe Nettel

Translated by Rosalind Harvey

Published 22 June 2022
French paperback with flaps, 219 pages

I .

A couple of weeks ago some new neighbours moved into the apartment next door. It’s a woman with a little boy who seems dissatisfied with life, to say the least. I’ve not seen him yet, but I can tell this just by listening to him. He comes back from school at around two in the afternoon, when the smell of cooking that emerges from his house wafts along the hallways and down the stairs of our building. Everyone knows when he’s arrived from the impatient way that he presses the buzzer. As soon he has closed his own front door, the decibel level increases as he starts shouting to complain about what’s for lunch. Judging by the smell, the food in his house cannot be either healthy or tasty, but the boy’s reaction is undoubtedly over the top. He hurls insults and profanities around, which is somewhat disconcerting in a child of his age. He also slams doors and throws all sorts of things at the walls. These outbursts tend to last a long time. Since they moved in, I’ve heard three of them, and on not one of those occasions was I able to listen all the way through, so I wouldn’t be able to say how they end. He shouts so loudly and so desperately that it forces me to leave the house in a hurry. I have to admit, I have never really got along well with children. If they approach me, I dodge out of the way, and if interacting with them is unavoidable, I don’t have the slightest idea of how to do so. I count myself amongst those people who, when they hear a baby crying on a plane or in a doctor’s waiting room, tense up completely, and are driven mad if the sound goes on for longer than ten minutes. However, it’s not that kids annoy me altogether. I might even find it entertaining watching them play in the park or tearing each other apart over some toy in the sandpit. They are living examples of how we would be as humans if the rules of etiquette and civility did not exist. For years I tried to convince my girlfriends that procreating was a hopeless mistake. I told them that children, no matter how sweet and loving they were in their best moments, would always represent a limit on their freedom, an economic burden, not to mention the physical and emotional cost they bring about: nine months of pregnancy, another six or more of breastfeeding, frequent sleepless nights during infancy, and then constant anxiety throughout their teenage years. ‘What’s more, society is designed so that it’s us, and not men, who take on the responsibility of caring for children, and this so often means forfeiting your career, your solo pursuits, your erotic side and sometimes your relationship with your partner, too,’ I would tell them, vehemently. ‘Is it really worth it?’

[...]

Still Born, Guadalupe Nettel's fourth novel, treats one of the most consequential decisions of early adulthood – whether or not to have children – with the intelligence and originality that have won her international acclaim. Alina and Laura are independent and career-driven women in their mid-thirties, neither of whom have built their future around the prospect of a family. Laura has taken the drastic decision to be sterilized, but as time goes by Alina becomes drawn to the idea of becoming a mother. When complications arise in Alina’s pregnancy and Laura becomes attached to her neighbour’s son, both women are forced to reckon with the complexity of their emotions. In prose that is as gripping as it is insightful, Guadalupe Nettel explores maternal ambivalence with a surgeon’s touch, carefully dissecting the contradictions that make up the lived experiences of women.

‘In Still Born, Guadalupe Nettel renders with great veracity life as it is encountered in the everyday, taking us to the heart of the only things that really matter: life, death and our relationships with others. All of these are contained in the experience of motherhood, which this novel explores and deepens.’
— Annie Ernaux, author of The Years

‘Nettel is one of the leading lights in contemporary Latin American literature.... I envy how naturally she makes use of language; her resistance to ornamentation and artifice; and the almost stoic fortitude with which she dispenses her profound and penetrating knowledge of human nature.’
— Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive

‘I read Still Born in less than a day. It is perfect: deeply feminist, wise, funny and alive. Nettel is generous to each of her characters, and in prose that is crisp and light. I love this book.’
— Yara Rodrigues Fowler, author of there are more things

‘I love the work of Guadalupe Nettel, one of Mexico’s greatest living writers. Her fiction is brilliant and original, always suffused with sensuality and strange science.’
— Paul Theroux, author of The Mosquito Coast

‘An unflinching, compassionate meditation on mothers, daughters and sisters – both blood-related and chosen – Still Born stirred me and consoled me, renewing my faith in the power of women’s communities. Guadalupe Nettel has managed the impossible task of writing a work of both exacting honesty and immense tenderness, on one of the most delicate topics.’
— Livia Franchini, author of Shelf Life

Still Born is a startling novel about whatever it is that drives adults to take care of children, and all the many things that make that care painful and sometimes impossible. There is a quiet force to the poised and deliberate writing. The novel is a deep exploration of affection and vulnerability.’
— Caleb Klaces, author of Fatherhood

‘Guadalupe Nettel reminds us that there is nothing stranger than our existence lived in containers of meat, blood and madness.’
— Mariana Enríquez, author of The Dangers of Smoking in Bed

Guadalupe Nettel was born in Mexico and grew up between Mexico and France. She is the author of the international award winning novels El huésped [The Guest] (2006), The Body Where I Was Born (2011), After the Winter (2014, Herralde Novel Prize) and Still Born (2020) and three collections of short stories, all published by Anagrama, the most prestigious of all Spanish-language publishing houses. Her work has been translated into more than fifteen languages and has appeared in publications such as Granta, The White Review, El País, the New York Times, La Repubblica and La Stampa. She currently lives in Mexico City where she’s the director of the magazine Revista de la Universidad de México.

 

Rosalind Harvey is a literary translator and educator from Bristol and now based in Coventry in the West Midlands. She has translated writers such as Juan Pablo Villalobos, Elvira Navarro, Alberto Barrera Tyszka, and Enrique Vila-Matas, and her work has been shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Oxford–Weidenfeld Translation Prize, amongst others. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Arts Foundation Fellow, a committee member of the Translators Association, and a founding member of the Emerging Translators Network.