Saturday, 30 September 2017

Such Small Hands - Andrés Barba

Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital. She has learned to say this flatly and without emotion, the way she says her name (Marina), her doll's name (also Marina) and her age (seven). Her parents were killed in a car crash and now she lives in the orphanage with the other little girls. But Marina is not like the other little girls.

In the curious, hyperreal, feverishly serious world of childhood, Marina and the girls play games of desire and warfare. The daily rituals of playtime, lunchtime, and bedtime are charged with a horror; horror is licked by the dark flames of love. When Marina introduces the girls to Marina the Doll, she sets in motion a chain of events from which there can be no release.

With shades of Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro and Mariana Enríquez, Such Small Hands is a beautifully controlled tour-de-force, a bedtime story to keep readers awake.

I first heard about Such Small Hands when a Spanish friend sent me a copy of 'Las manos pequeñas' a few years ago thinking my university Spanish would still be fluent enough to read this little gem. Unfortunately it wasn't, and I've been waiting for an English translation ever since. I think it's probably just as well I read it in English as I think I would have missed a lot of the subtleness of this novel, the quietness which adds to its general air of menace.

Apparently inspired by a real-life incident in a Brazilian orphanage where the other children killed a girl and then proceeded to play with her body for a week, Such Small Hands is not at all gruesome and starts with an actual doll. Marina, the child from the car crash, names this doll Marina too, and starts her descent into something that's not quite madness but is fascinating to the other girls to see and to try to understand.

Barba's writing is simple but this is what makes the book so disturbing and I can see why the comparisons to both Daphne du Maurier & Shirley Jackson are made. The girls in the orphanage are never portrayed as anything other than little girls but in the dead of night, anything and anyone can be terrifying. Such Small Hands wasn't quite what I was expecting but nevertheless wriggled its way into my brain where it's filed away in the 'creepy doll' section.

Such Small Hands -

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