I’m not 100% sure about what I thought of this one. There were elements throughout I really enjoyed, like the child narrator, the descriptions of the jungle in their house and the unsettling feeling of dread and death weaved throughout the book, but the plot just didn’t really go anywhere for me and the ending felt super sudden. I’d definitely read any of the authors other works as I did enjoy parts of her writing, but unfortunately this one didn’t quite work for me overall. Torn between a 2.5 and 3 star rating
Thank you to NetGalley and Abyss’ publishers for access to an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not sure what to make of this book. Perhaps I’m not the right person for it, maybe it’s the translation (of which I wish I had read the original Spanish text) but this book didn’t do much for me in terms of giving a good story or really offering thought-provoking prose. It’s also a book that doesn’t really check its characters’ privilege, despite the fact that it depicts a wealthy white Colombian family who goes to a wealthy estate in the mountains. For a book that gives so much of its main characters sympathy, it doesn’t offer much into the “help” characters who happen to be darker skinned people.
Abyss is at its best when it explores the internal life and imagination of its young protagonist, so much so that the ambiguous nature of whether the events of the book are supernatural or not add to some of the book’s intrigue. It just takes a long time for the book to get there, which ends up reading as meandering especially in some of the terribly quotidian drama around Claudia’s mother’s infidelity.
I genuinely wanted to like it more and hope that reading it in its original Spanish that this book lives up to its praise. 2.5 stars out of 5 but rounding up because I do want this book to succeed so that we can have more stories from Pilar Quintana.
Claudia, who’s named after her beautiful mother, lives with her parents in Cali, Colombia. The grown-ups, including her aunt, are close to one another and lovingly take care of her. However, when someone new enters the picture, the dynamic changes. After that, Claudia’s life is heavily shaded by generational trauma and mental illness.
1️⃣ I read this in one sitting.
2️⃣ I loved reading from the perspective of the 8-year old Claudia. It took me back to books from my childhood. But there’s nothing childish about this book or the traumas it explores.
3️⃣ I hadn’t read any translated works in a while when I picked this one up, and I’m so glad that I did. I studied Latin American lit in college (untranslated then, but my language skills are a bit rusty now) and loved it—I need to get back to it.
4️⃣ I think it’s incredibly difficult to address such difficult topics from the perspective of a child while maintaining an appropriate tone and voice, but Quintana easily achieves it. The way that events unfold in front of Claudia and her reactions are so complex and add heart-wrenching depth to the story.
5️⃣ I have only good things to say about this one. It’s fairly short and can be a quick read, but it’s such a full and layered story.
I can’t say for sure. The narration was not handled well but the story was good. I’m right down the middle on this one.
A brief, devastating portrait of a young girl realizing that her parents are capable of thoughtless cruelty.
Thank you to NetGalley and World Editions for approving this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
An evocative novel about the weight of adulthood as seen through a child’s eyes.
"Abyss", translated from "Los Abismos", is set in Cali, Colombia, where young Claudia lives with her family in an apartment full of plants that she calls "the jungle". She lives an ordinary life that is upended when her 50-something aunt gets married in secret to a man decades younger, who immediately takes to Claudia's mother.
Claudia's genealogy is marked by women who married very young to much older men to have their children. As she begins to become aware of the grim realities of the adults around her, Claudia realizes that, for many women, the abyss might be the only other option.
I really enjoyed this subtle exploration of gender roles and expectations, plus the descriptions were so vivid, I felt I was there.
However, the story being narrated from 8-year-old Claudia's POV didn't feel entirely convincing to me. It wasn't a child's voice or a child's perspective (which would be really hard to convey in a digestible way!), and I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to narrate it as older Claudia looking back (which is what I thought was going to happen at the beginning).
I was also missing a true ending; I felt like the story left me hanging, not just in terms of plot but also thematically. It just ended.
This was a quick and engaging read, though, so I would still recommend it to anyone interested in the theme - as long as you don't expect a plot resolution of any kind.
Pilar Quintana wrote Abyss from the point of view of an eight year old girl in '80s Columbia being confronted with adult reality.
Books written from the perspective of a child are usually heartbreaking for me and Abyss is no exception. Piecing together the world through Claudia's eyes, we see generational trauma being passed on as the people around her deal with being stuck in their roles in a world where depression is a taboo subject. Claudia's experiences are all too universal and familiar; a child slowly unraveling the mysteries of the adult world, a girl seeing and understanding way more than the adults around her think, and a woman filled with the abyss in the making.
New favorite, great translation.
In Abyss, 8-year old Claudia brings you inside her mind as she navigates her life as an only child of a family from Cali,Colombia in 1980s. Claudia did not only narrates what she observes from her surroundings but also provides her own commentary on things. Imagine a kid watching a film and that kid gives her unbiased reviews of things based what she sees,hears or knows, that is what this book is - and more. Claudia's own family are such an interesting puzzle pieces of the story that Claudia narrates and it makes reading this book more intriguing and satisfying. His father's orphan story,her mother's obsession with death and the story of the woman who disappeared - all those stories can be found interwoven inside Claudia's mind.
Though the plot is not that eventful, the author made up for it in the characterization. She was able to paint a clear picture of the actuality of things without forgetting that her narrator is an 8-year old.
This book is a challenging and also a satisfying read for me. I love that it was not too short but also not too long to be dragging.
Thanks to Netgalley and World Editions for allowing me to read this English translation ARC.
I found Abyss to be a rich and haunting read. Quintana accurately captures Claudia ( Namesake)'s position and perspective, opening up the world of a child as a natural and layered sphere. The descriptions of the homes are intricate, both the" jungle" of Claudia's plant decorated city house or the foggy, terrifying cliff home they vacation in. They are, of course, metaphors for the emotional spaces in which the child and parents find themselves. the translation is fluid and the dramatic tension leading to the Abyss sustained. I would rate it a 4.5, as I very much enjoyed reading it and watching the characters behaviour evolve throughout the novel, but I wasn't wowed enough to a five star review. I highly recommend it, nonetheless.
Many thanks to NetGalley and World Editions for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
After reading a novel earlier this year following an 11 year old about family, race, and gender, I was very excited to find ABYSS. However, it fell slightly short for me, but I definitely see that there are readers for this. As a bookseller, I read a lot of works, and sometimes they don't work for me, but I find it very important to find in books, what I think will work for other readers.
I think anyone looking for a novel centering family and belonging will find something in this. Since the narrator is younger, we get presented with events from her perspective and have to figure out ourselves what things might mean beyond her comprehension. But I did find it hard to parse for those profound moments that I think were intended.
Overall, I find it hard to rate translated novels. because I feel, for myself, that I am rating the translation and not the original text (obviously). So not sure how much of this review is intended for the translator (Dilman).
The Abyss is a beautifully written short novel. It is written from the point of view of an eight year old girl as her home life slowly falls apart. Her voice is authentic and totally believable, and her half understanding of what is going on around her is written with some skill. Claudia finds herself at the edge of various abysses (the original Spanish name for this novel was in the plural) but keeps herself safely away from the edge unlike other female characters in the book. Claudia is charming, and it is her character and narration of the story that keeps the tone of the book light and optimistic, despite the dark and unhappy lives that surround her. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will enjoy recommending it.
Abyss’ follows a family living in 1980s Columbia through the eyes of 8 year old Claudia, with particular focus on her relationship with her death-obsessed, depressed young mother. At its core, ‘Abyss’ is about Claudia’s fear of abandonment, and her feverish nightmares and preoccupation with abysses - namely, falling or jumping into them - feel both familiar and incredibly anxiety inducing.
While I felt a disconnect between Claudia’s young age and the sophisticated writing style, the translation is beautifully done and nuanced. ‘Abyss’ is definitely more character focused than plot and the ending felt very abrupt, but on the whole I enjoyed it!
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for early access!
ABYSS was such an interesting read! We see things through the perspective of a child, Claudia, and I thought that it was well done. It was a layered, complex book and I enjoyed it.
I'm a bit conflicted on how I feel about this book after finishing it. I really enjoyed the writing style and really felt as if I'm in the head of an 8-year-old most of the time. There were over times where it seemed that Claudia was much older than her age, which took me out of my immersion.
The ending left me unsatisfied since it seemed like the book was building up to something that never happened
I'd still recommend this as an atmospheric read mostly meant to be read in one go
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me this ARC
Great read, very clever!
Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publishers for letting me read this title in exchange for my feedback.
Abyss is a novel about the rotten interior of an upper middle class family in Cali, Columbia, seen through the eyes of 8-yr-old Claudia. With aching innocence and clarity, she lays bare how a mother’s unhappiness weighs down on a child too young to bear this emotional burden.
Her beautiful mother, also called Claudia, was raised in comfort but not given access to higher education, nor choice in love. Without the skills and strength to live independently, she was pressured into marrying a wealthy older man whom she didn’t love, and who turns out to be absent yet controlling. As a full time mother, she hogs little Claudia’s attention, preventing her from forming attachment to other adults, but treats her every action as a nuisance, and constantly picks on her looks. Boredom and sexual frustration drive her to make terrible choices, before finally plunging her into depression.
The mother is doubtlessly a victim of the patriarchy, but her emotional unavailability, irritability, alcoholism and suicidal tendency amount to emotional child abuse. Little Claudia craves a different mother. She even wishes her mother would commit suicide for real, to end her fears for good. As someone who grew up with a similar mix of resentment and insecurity but never dared to voice them, I can’t begin to describe how much I felt seen.
I love the nuanced narrative, layered with frustration - not just the Claudias, but also the aunt and other women who died in suicides masked as accidents, according to mother Claudia. Their collective unhappiness reveals a systemic problem, a gaping abyss tempting women to jump. The haunting setting, whose menace is intuited by little Claudia, also mirrors the women’s plight: a lonesome city apartment, both a doll’s house and a wild jungle; a foggy mountain house at the edge of an actual abyss, which has already swallowed another woman.
Thank you World Editions for this beautiful ARC.
This book takes place in Colombia in (I think) the 1980's. It's written in first person and the POV is of an eight year old girl, but but subject of the book is really the girl's mother.
There's a cliff in this book and someone falls out of an 18 story apartment building to their death, but the true abyss in this book is inside Claudia's mother. Her mother (also, confusingly, named Claudia) seems lost. She goes through spurts of energy and purpose, but she also also drawn to death. The mother was kept from following her dreams by her family and has seemingly settled for a husband that she isn't drawn to and a daughter that she isn't proud of. She obsesses over dead women: Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe, Caroline of Monaco. She sees a sinister reason in each death- murder, suicide? The mother seems to understand all too well what it is to not want to live.
Claudia the daughter desperately wants to understand and help her mother but just doesn't know how. She and the housekeeper track the mother's moods and work around her as the mother descends into what she calls "rhinitis" but is a depressive episode that keeps her in bed all day.
The book is saying something about how women are valued and about how much of that value is on superficial things like appearance. It's also about how beautiful women are often denied being anything more than beautiful; their inner lives are of no interest to the world and they are objects, not subjects. What toll does it take on a woman to only be what others expect and never be seen for anything beyond the surface? We are reading the point of view of a child so the darkness and despair are mitigated somewhat but it's plain that the women who are the focus of this book are desperately unhappy.
To live, to die, to live again, to trust, to lose trust, to trust again, to be lost, to be lost and found, but only your bones. The Abyss takes the reader to several precipices. The choice you have, teetering at such a place, to step forward or to retreat, requires wholehearted commitment. For most, such commitment is elusive. The book’s characters are destined to tremble over many pages at their edges. Watching them is Claudia and her doll, her silent companion, Pauline. Claudia reports everything happening around her in a clear voice. She is fascinated by the abysses people face but is powerless to summon them back from the brink.
Claudia’s life is fairly ordinary but somewhat charmed. Like angels, domestic staff see to things and then evaporate. As you read, the book reminds you of the beauty and tragedy of the mundane. The day-to-day magic of how plants give pleasure, how judgements bring pain, how mistakes knock us back, and connections make life more vibrant. For Claudia, there is stranger magic too. The true mystery of the Abyss. When someone is not present, do they continue to exist? Are they safe? Will they come back? While they are gone, what are they up to, and what are they thinking?
There is little difference between Pauline and the real people in Claudia’s life. Claudia doesn’t know what Pauline is thinking. She does her best to support Pauline and make her feel comfortable and included. But it is to no avail. Pauline cannot be consoled.
Pilar Quintana’s expressive writing makes you wonder what is substantial. In the pages, clouds form, plants grow, flowers come again, mist chills your bones, and jumpers keep you cosy around the fire. On the one hand, in life, there is betrayal, loss, and trauma; on the other, there are treats, ice cream and popcorn, and a new doll who looks like the old Pauline. No matter.
In Cali, Colombia, young Claudia watches her family fall apart.
Quintana has an accessible writing style, but the narrator's voice is too knowing for a child. Also, contrary to the book cover blurb, Abyss doesn't give a strong sense of place.
My thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
Pilar Quintana's ABYSS reminds me very much of WHAT MAISIE KNEW by William James. A wise observant child sees much more than the adults around her assume she is capable of seeing, and by naively reporting her observations here in the novel, the child indicts the adults in her life, both for their shallowness and aimlessness, as well as for their casual cruelties.
James's novel is written in third person and I think his choice of perspective works better for me, for a story where a naive-wise child is the narrator and the witness to adult foibles. Williams's choice to make Maisie a character in what is essentially James's story allows us, as readers, to float somewhere at a distance, and to see his characters whole, including the child at its center--and to have pity for them. Whereas Quintana's first-person narrator, Claudia, feels a little too wise to me sometimes, and a little too self-absorbed, where the story becomes more about her than about what she observes.
So I'm ending up writing a very technical-crafty review of this novel. The mode of how this story was told was what interested me most about it. The happenings in and of themselves felt a little small, and mean, and I could find no greater theme to grab onto, where I could feel pity, or could care much at all for these feckless adults and their various peccadillos.
It's a very tricky thing to pull off a story where a child's perspective dominates, and where we readers are meant to see past the child's limited perspectives, and to see the whole of it. It didn't quite work for me here. I wanted some greater meaning and it didn't happen.