Thursday 22 October 2015

'Mildew' by Paulette Jonguitud

The great Mexican print-maker J. G. Posada (1852-1913) specialised in the strident, the melodramatic and the grotesque, portraying a vividly strange world of grinning dios de la muerte skulls and bewigged demon brides and epic biblical catastrophes, of freaks and omens, of random explosions and collapsing churches.

Readers familiar with Posada may be prepared for what goes on in Mildew, a wonderfully shocking debut novel by the young Mexican writer Paulette Jonguitud.

A day before her daughter's wedding Constanza, a theatre designer, discovers a small blemish on her upper thigh. This very quickly spreads, a combination of the titular mildew and something more momentously invasive and accelerated, as if she's been trapped in a David Cronenberg movie. The mould, part vegetable part mineral, rapidly consumes her leg. 

The alarming physical symptoms are accompanied by a mental and emotional malaise that accompanies the change - or  perhaps we should say Change, as this is clearly a menopausal metaphor, among other things. As Constanza rots she becomes increasingly less visible to those around her. There are awkward encounters with her husband, her niece, her children - although 'awkward' is hardly the word.

Past events have a spectral purchase on the present - an aborted foetus can be found alive and (fairly) well in her husband's guitar case; there's a very strange grandmother who teaches herself palmistry;  the narrator is step-mother to her own niece, who has an affair with her husband.

This haunting fable cites Hieronymus Bosch, Macbeth, travelling freak shows, torrid television melodramas and modernist surrealism. The presiding spirit, though, is Kafka. A really impressive novella, deftly translated from the Spanish by the author.

You can read more about Mildew and order a copy from the reliable CB editions

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