by Pilar Quintana
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Pub Date 07 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 07 Feb 2023
By the Colombian author of The Bitch, a 2020 National Book Award Finalist and PEN Awards Winner
“An eight-year-old girl takes in a series of troubling events in this luminous and transfixing account of fractured family life from Colombian writer Quintana (The Bitch). Readers will be dazzled.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
Claudia is an impressionable eight-year-old girl, trying to understand the world through the eyes of the adults around her. But her hardworking father hardly speaks a word, while her unhappy mother spends her days reading celebrity lifestyle magazines, tending to her enormous collection of plants, and filling Claudia’s head with stories about women who end their lives in tragic ways. Then an interloper arrives, disturbing the delicate balance of family life, and Claudia’s world starts falling apart. In this strikingly vivid portrait of Cali, Colombia, Claudia’s acute observations remind us that children are capable of discerning extremely complex realities even if they cannot fully understand them. In Abyss, Quintana leads us brilliantly into the lonely heart of the child we have all once been, driven by fear of abandonment.
Praise for Pilar Quintana
“Pilar Quintana uncovers wounds we didn’t know we had, shows us their beauty, and then throws a handful of salt into them.” —YURI HERRERA, author of Signs Preceding the End of the World
“How can I sum up everything that fascinates me about Pilar Quintana. Her incredible lyricism. Her path against the unexpected. The tension—razor-sharp, poetic and uncompromising.”—SARA MESA
Praise for Abyss
“What are the abysses that a girl, stunned by the mysteries of her family and the world, peers into? Her apartment is a jungle, her home a supermarket, her country a fog-enclosed mountain range obscuring the cliffs. Readers too fall, stunned, into Pilar Quintana’s abyss.” —HÉCTOR ABAD
“Pilar Quintana has created a powerful story that contrasts with the hopeless and doomed atmosphere that surrounds the protagonist. In subtle and brilliant prose, in which nature connects us with the symbolic possibilities of literature, the abysses are both real and intimate.” —JURY, Alfaguara Novel Prize 2021
“In a powerful, unsettling voice, Pilar Quintana explores the fears of childhood alongside the fragility and violence of adults. With lucidity, innocence, suspense and the labyrinths of desire, she draws an unforgettable map of the heartrending road to freedom.” —IRENE VALLEJO
“A voice of strength, one that takes us to the world of a young girl confronting adult reality from a visionary childhood, a truly important voice that resides in each of us and makes this novel so moving. Abyss is Pilar Quintana’s triple jump.” —ANA MERINO
“A work built around small details that can define an entire continent.” —Vogue
- By the Colombian author of The Bitch, a 2020 National Book Award Finalist and PEN Awards Winner
- Lead title of Fall 2022
- Announced first print-run 20,000
- Winner of the Premio Alfaguara 2021
- In Colombia’s upper class, a young girl reflects on her parents’ troubled marriage
- Advance galleys and digital reader copies
- Digital assets including trailer & author video
- Signed book plates available
- National TV, radio, print, and online review campaign
- Consumer-facing national advertising campaign on Shelf Awareness, Lithub, NPR, Foreword Reviews, Goodreads
- Virtual or in-person author events
- Book club discussion guide
- Bookstore co-op available
- Excerpt placement
- Social media campaign & Goodreads Giveaway
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 66 members
A tale of twisted fates and intertwined family histories, told through the eyes of a child. Suffocating in the heat, throat stuffed with flower blossoms, this book really sucked me in from page one.
An outstanding book.
I was lucky enough to get this as an advanced copy from NetGalley.
It is the story of Claudia and her family told through the eyes of the child, Claudia. The story on the surface is that of a little girl trying to understand a world in which her mother seems to swing between caring and unfeeling within a matter of minutes.
However this book gives insight into depression, anxiety and suicide and its impact on a young girl. The voice of Claudia is compelling and utterly believable. Her struggle to comprehend her mother's withdrawal into depression and her father's ignorance at how bad things are is enough to make you want to reach through the pages and bang the parents heads together.
I honestly can't give this book enough praise. I could barely put it down but then I was fearful of what I might read next. It is certainly disturbing.
Throughout is the theme of the abyss which starts out as the view from the first floor balcony of her mother's plant infested living room. It becomes the block of flats that her mother's best friend lives in and on to the precipitous valley below the country retreat the family go to after a crisis occurs.
There's so much more to this book than in this review but if I went on you'd basically have the book.
Very very highly recommended.
This novella is a good read telling a story in a subtle way through the voiceof a child. One says the truth comes out of children's voice. This is true. If the mother had listened to her daughter, been receptive to her as to her own depression, her own reactions as a powerless woman in society and country, the story told would have a completely different tone....
I received a complimentary ARC of this novella from NetGalley and I am leaving voluntarily a review.
The book I didn’t know I needed. This is a story that needs to be in the hands of more readers. Truly captivated by this book and it really threw itself to the forefront as one of my favorite reads of the year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have a new author to follow…Pilar Quintana from Colombia, South America. What a beautiful job she did with this book, using bold, terse phraseology to build her characters and convey the story’s suspense. This is the story of a young girl (Claudia) growing up with a hardworking (read absent) father and a mother who obsesses over celebrity magazines all day long and tends to her many plants. Everything is good in Claudia’s life until her mother meets, and falls for, the captivating young man who has just married Claudia’s older aunt (her father’s sister). To try to mend their relationship, Claudia’s father finds a place for the family to stay in the nearby mountains of Cali. The mountains are glorious, but there is a dark side…an abyss that would be easy for Claudia or her mother to fall into especially as fog frequently envelopes the mountains and houses. Fears of this literal abyss grow ever greater for Claudia as her mother continues to fight depression and as stories proliferate of neighbors and friends who have committed suicide (i.e. fallen into a figurative abyss). Scariest for me was how Claudia acted with regard to her cherished doll, Penelope, in light of the abyss. I can’t say anything more than that without giving away what, for me, was the best moment in the story.
I liked everything about this novella except that it ended too soon for my tastes. I would happily have read a hundred more pages about this young girl and her family. I have already looked for other books by Quintana and found one that was a National Book Award Finalist – The Bitch (referring to a female dog, not a you-know). I guess that’s where I’ll be going next.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.
The way how everything is portrayed through Claudia's eyes hold both a sense of naivety and how she sees traumatic events. This book definitely explores adult problems/issues from a child's perspective, which alot of people tend to underestimate. Once people become mature and grow older, we lose much of our memories of how we saw adult issues of the world from a child's perspective and so this affects the way how we, as adults, them see children. We see them as not being able to comprehend problems of older people, but it's not that they don't understand, they just have a different way of dping so. This book, however, allowed me to kindle memories of how I percieved traumatic events as a child, as it did for many others.
In terms of storyline, nothing dramatic happens per say, it does not have a dense storyline but it is a book that conveys sad and tragic feelings beautifully. The ending was quite abrupt but this still doesn't put me off from this book. It is definitely one I see myself reading again due to the way how the place (Cali, Columbia) is described and the way how the book itself is written.
Thank you to World Editions, the author and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC.
Abyss is a haunting and lyrical tale which follows Claudia, an eight year old girl, in Cali, Colombia. Claudia tries to understand the world of adults around her and whilst doing so is met with fears and horrors.
Faced with the fear of abandonment, our protagonists’ childish voice exemplifies the darkness within the novel. She understands and observes what is happening around her but struggles to express how she feels.
Quintana details depression within a society that is patriarchal and reluctant to speak on mental health. The novel was oppressive and anxiety inducing - the complex realities of life and adult relationships were vividly portrayed.
I will definitely be reading more of Quintana’s works!
Thank you to NetGalley and World Editions for the e-ARC! In Abyss, Pilar Quintana describes a family’s interactions through Claudia’s eyes. Quintana’s portrayal of Claudia is meticulous, detailing the blissful naivety of a child while also trying to process the traumatic events happening around her. The descriptions of her nightmares are so vivid and feverish. I am very interested to read The Bitch and other work by her after this!
“But inside, where the orphan was, in that sea of silence, I knew there lived a monster.” When adults don’t provide explanations for their behaviour because they’re embarrassed or ashamed or can’t think of an age-appropriate explanation, children fill in the gaps.
Abyss is told from the perspective of eight-year-old Claudia, who lives in a jungle-like apartment in Cali, Colombia with her mother, father and their respective secrets. Their marriage has problems. Claudia’s mother was a much younger bride who married from family pressure rather than love. Perhaps this is why she has a wandering eye, extramarital affairs and is prone to depression that she mischaracterises as rhinitis for her daughter. The inconsistencies and lack of parenting do not escape Claudia’s astute eye: “This was the first time since her rhinitis that my mother had done anything like that for me.”
“I wanted to face the abyss again, to feel the luscious feeling in my belly, and the fear, the desire Virgo to jump and to run away.” Her mother’s suicidal ideation and obsession with celebrities who took their own lives, and her family history of a missing woman, all encourage Claudia to idealise death and explore what suicide means. Luckily when Claudia throws her doll Paulina off the cliff, the other adults in her life, her father and aunt Amelia, take notice and demand better parenting despite the “bottomless pit that nothing could fill” inside her. While it felt short, started slowly and ended abruptly, Pilar Quintana has explored the child’s perspective on adult problems well enough to give pause to any parents lying to their kids about affairs and mental illness.
I feel that one thing Pilar Quintana is really good at is creating an intensive and atmospheric text. I thought that while reading her book “The bitch” and also in “The Abyss”. In this book the story is narrated by a girl called Claudia. I didn’t feel like the voice and the age of the girl added up. It became a gap in the text which I couldn’t ignore.
I usually like a story that deals with mental health issues which this book did. Claudia’s mother is depressed and spends most of her time in bed with magazines and the only one who understands that she is depressed is Claudia, the child..
Even though it is about a dysfunctional family and tragic events I didn’t feel much for any of the characters and I think it was due to the fact that the voice lacked credibility.
The ending of the book felt very abrupt and underwhelming.
I read this as a translated book in English by Lisa Dillman who I think did a really great job.
The book is from the perspective of a young girl in Colombia who grows up with a depressed mother and absent father.
At times it felt like the story was told more from an adult perspective than a kid, but when it did that it was beautiful. The book is heartbreaking and a testament that not all parents should be parents.
The world building and descriptions make it very lively and it is very easy to image yourself there. That is something I always look for in books that are set in places I have not visited.
If you are ready to feel really sad this is the book for you.
An eight years old Claudia looks around herself and describes the world she is surrounded by. At first glance, it seems perfect: nice house, young and pretty mom, father working hard and honestly to provide for his family. But it all is an illusion. In fact, this house is cold, love has gone stale and the mother suffers from depression, a condition in some parts of the world still unspoken. Claudia tried very hard to earn attention and, most importantly, love from her parents, but to no avail. This fight has been already lost.
This book is sad, tragic, and beautiful. And yet, somehow there is something missing, this part that could make this tale more personal and moving. Saying that one must admit the authors' real talent and a good chance for a promising future.
I love a book that is all vibes, a little bit of plot. There isn't much of a traditional "beginning, middle, end" but the story does develop in a lovely, subtle way. We are reading about a child whose mother is struggling with serious mental health issues. Her parents have a dysfunctional, age-gap relationship that feels predatory but is far more nuanced than you first believe. Claudia is constantly enshrouded in her mother's obsession with disappearing or suicidal women - women who felt trapped in their lives or suffered from the traditional roles they found themselves in as wives and mothers. She herself becomes fearful of the 'abyss', this inescapable depression that seems to inevitably overtake every other woman in her life. I enjoyed the perspective of young Claudia, of her complicated relationship with her parents and her growing awareness of the adult world. Quintana has successfully navigated and portrayed the complex love of parents who struggle with mental illness, who want to be there to love their children, but often fail. She shows how fallible parents are and how Claudia becomes aware that her parents are whole people with a past and a future that don't revolve around her. However, like I said at the start, there isn't much story here. If a reader enjoys a really dense plotline, this novel is probably not for them.
A captivating, sorrowful journey through the eyes of female family relationships. Beautifully descriptive it takes you into Cali, into their homes. Reflective on the impact of a mother's depression on her daughter. A stunning read.
Awesome… What are you waiting for?! Snap this one up ASAP! Could not put it down. Housework was not done, kids were not fed… Fantastic writing, kept me gripped all the way through!
Narrated by eight year old Claudia and set in Cali, Colombia, there were parts of this novel that really drew me in particularly the darker sections that dealt with how women cope with depression or unfulfilled lives. Young Claudia doesn’t fully understand the adult world but has fears for her parents, her mother appears to suffer bouts of depression and is obsessed with the deaths of famous women from Princess Grace to Natalie Wood, and also the disappearance of an old friends mother and the recent death of a cousin, all things that weigh on the mind of a child. The ending seemed quite abrupt to me and overall it left me wanting more.
I went into the Abyss completely blind, and it overwhelmed me but I did not want to pull back.
Abyss is the story of Claudia, and her mother - also Claudia. Even though Claudia (the daughter) is only 8, she can sense something is not right with her mom. Her family life is slowly unraveling and Claudia Jr is trying her best to fix things. She tries to help her mom to get out of bed, she tries to engage with her dad, learns about her extended family in the hopes of understanding her parents better.
This book was strange because I was able to empathize completely with both Claudias. I have experienced the hopelessness of trying to get your parents' affection, dealing with a sick mother, not feeling pretty, not feeling enough that Claudia Jr feels. But I am also the exact same age as Claudia Sr, and I can understand her feeling of being trapped, life regrets, family trauma being passed on to her. This book is just hauntingly beautiful but touches on some very heavy topics. I am so glad I got to read it and I believe everyone should experience the Abyss.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me this ARC in exchange for an honest review..
Thank you net galley for providing me with a free copy of Abyss in exchange for a honest review.
Although I understand the deep meaningful messages this book was trying to deliver,and the portrayal of mental illness as well as other topics such as unstable family dynamics were well delivered, I simply could not rate this higher due to my inability to connect with any character including Claudia, the child narrating this story. The ending was highly disappointing and if I were to describe this book in two words, my choice would be : Utterly underwelming
This is a really good book. Not as good as "The Bitch" (which I firmly believe to be a PERFECT novel, word for word) but a good follow up. "What Maisie Knew" is an obvious comparision. I liked the first person perspective and the childhood point of view. Loved all the sections in Cali, obviously, especially the trip to the zoo. I liked the theme of frustrated, depressed, unfulfilled women - the abyss that lurks deep within us all. I want to write more but it's so hot my brain is barely working. Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC.
It's a little bit of a slow burn but once you get into it, you're fully engaged. OMG I can't wait for more readers to experience this.
This is like a Columbian version of 'What Maisie Knew' or 'The Death of the Heart', albeit Bowen's narrator is an adolescent, not a child as in Henry James and Abyss. In this book we have a child's-eye view of the complicated lives of adults encompassing sex, adultery, depression told to us via a narrator who understands the emotional significance of what is happening but doesn't comprehend either adult behaviour or the full implications of what she is witnessing.
There are some powerful pieces that illuminate how children are deeply affected by their familial surroundings but overall I didn't find this as impactful as I'd hoped. The Columbian setting is fascinating and gives the book a shot of energy. However, I seem to have read a lot of books recently turning on the claustrophobia of standard gender roles, especially the plight of intelligent women who are not allowed to work outside the home, and the resultant repression and frustrations of patriarchal control that take a toll on mental health - always an important topic, just overdone in my recent reading choices - mea culpa! Anyone coming to this topic afresh may well respond more positively to Quintana's work.
I loved reading this. Pilar Quintana is a brilliant writer, and her translator, Lisa Dillman, did such an excellent job. Abyss reminded me of my own childhood and my own family, bringing up memories I hadn't thought of for a long, long time. The mature voice of the protagonist, Claudia, who's just a little girl, spoke to the complexity of thoughts and emotions that children really do have. There were many painful moments in Abyss that made me surprisingly emotional. I haven't teared up while reading a book in...I don't know how long. But the experience was not at all unpleasant. This was a beautiful read.
I liked the timelessness of this novel.
I liked the way things were implied not stated.
I liked the way that it was complex but simple.
I liked the way that it was written through the eyes of a child and yet told about adult life.
I liked the way that I never quite got what the author was saying but I understood everything.
I thought that style was bang up-to-date and yet is reminiscent of Jorge Amado, Gabriel García Márquez and even José Saramago.
The descriptions were amazing, the depiction of the jungle, both inside the house and outside takes the reader there.
The overriding theme of the book is in the title the Abyss. It is beautiful, it is frightening, it draws the reader in, it makes the reader shy away from it.
I was there where the action was, even when there was no action only words.
Fantastic book. Well done Pilar Quintana,. Well done Lisa Dillman for the translation.
I'm looking forward to more of the same.
My thanks to the publisher for an advanced copy for honest review.
This book gave me such "lying life of adults" feelings. Children hear and see more than any adult gives them credit for, and how they internalize that knowledge can have such intense effects on them. I wanted to pick up little Claudia and take her somewhere safe, and i wanted to do the same for her mother, honestly.
I thought this translation was fantastic, there was never a point where i wondered if there was a disconnect from the authors intent. I would love to read more of quintana's work, and I'm grateful to #netgalley for giving me this book and this author.
This is a book that deals with some of the struggles of family dynamics told through the eyes of an 8-year-old girl. I found myself emphasising with Claudia as she recounts the events and I felt it was written well and I was thoroughly engaged throughout.
The descriptions of the surroundings were truly beautiful and I could really visualise every place the characters were in down to minute details.
I felt it discussed important issues such as infidelity and mental health issues and how these can be viewed by young children who are affected by them.
My one downside of the book was the ending, it just seemed very abrupt and I was left a bit underwhelmed as a result of that.
Other than that, I would definitely recommend this and would certainly read more by this author.
I really enjoyed this challenging look at family dynamics seen through the lens of a young girl. This story shows the darkness that can happen in a family and the problems that children have to deal with.
This was my first experience reading any of Pilar Quintana's work, and after experiencing Abyss, I know I want to read more by this author. This book has such an air of melancholy and death tinges every page. I found myself sucked in despite the depressing storyline and the fact that this usually isn't my preferred genre.
Told from the perspective of 8-year-old Claudia, we watch through her eyes as her mother battles bouts of depression, the deliberate blind eye all of the adults turn to her situation, and her parents struggle to stay together despite an affair. It's dark, disturbing, and had me fearful to turn the page as we neared the end of the book, uncertain of how it would end.
However, the ending wasn't what I feared, albeit very abrupt and not very satisfying. Despite all that, this book will be sticking with my thoughts for a while.
3.5 stars. It’s such a different story that I appreciate, children all ages understand nuance, changes, sadness etc. My heart ached for little Claudia. I think the ending was just so abrupt.
Abyss is a heartfelt novel that tells the story about Claudia and how she trying to understand life and see the world through the adults around her. She has a strong fear of abandonment and has a hard childhood. This book will pull at your heartstrings and make you feel for any child that has to move through the world in away to protect themselves from feeling alone.
"Suddenly I was at the mountain house. It was nighttime. I was standing at the hall mirror and my reflection showed me, small and dark, in a white nightie, Paulina in my arms. We had the same French braids as the girls and our heads hurt. Fog passed before us, then enveloped us, and when it dissolved, we were on the edge of the cliff. The abyss was calling, tugging at us. I offered up Paulina, in an attempt to appease it, and though the abyss devoured her she wasn’t enough; it wanted me too. Claudia, it called. Claudiaaa, howling like the wind when it tunneled through the canyon. I fought with all my might, trying to sever the thread at the bottom of the abyss, the thread that was pulling me down through the dry leaves that were my dead."
Abyss is Lisa Dillman's translation of Pilar Quintana's Los abismos which won the Premio Alfaguara de Novela in 2021, and follows the The Bitch by the same duo, a National Book Award Finalist for Translated Literature.
The story is narrated by a eight-year old girl (*), Claudia, who lives in Cali in Colombia with her middle-class family. Claudia's father owns and runs a supermarket, and her mother, who is much younger than her husband, is a housewife her plans to go to University to read law blocked by her father, and she now lives on a diet of celebity magazines.
Things take a turn for the worse when Claudia's paternal aunt marries a man much younger than her, and then he and Claudia's mother have, or at least are suspected by their partners to have had, an affair. The brother-in-law vanishes from the scene (Claudia suspects her father may have threatened him or worse) and Claudia's mother settles into depression, her new literary love the story of starlets who died young and in mysterious circumstances (which, unlike the conspiracy theorists, she assumes is suicide in each case):
“Papá, are there people who don’t want to live?” It was Sunday and Cali was deserted. All for us.
“People who don’t want to live?”
“She told you there were people who didn’t want to live?”
“Like Karen Carpenter, she killed herself by starvation.” We were standing at the mouth of the Aguacatal River.
“Your mother told you that?”
“The Carpenter woman had a disease.” The waters of the Cal flowed gently between the rocks. “Well Princess Grace of Monaco drove off a cliff.”
“That was an accident.”
“How do you know?”
“They said it on the news.”
“What about Natalie Wood?”
“Also an accident.”
“They said it on the news?”
The abyss of the title is one by a house in the mountains, owned by an old friend, where the family go to try to piece back their lives, although Claudia's father spends much of his time travelling back to sort things out at the supermarket, her mother drinks, and Claudia herself becomes obsessed with the story of the previous owner of the house, a woman who following a row at a party drove off into the foggy mountainuous roads and was never seen again. And the fourth member of the family, Claudia's beloved doll Paulina, develops suicidal thoughts of her own.
I have to admit this one didn't work for me. The narrative voice I felt was unsuccessful - Claudia seems to be narrating the story from the perspective of her 8-year old self (there is no sense of 'I later discovered' / 'I realise now') but in a voice that is clearly of someone much older. And the story is both rather straightforward and, like The Bitch, highly intense, but less successfully than the earlier novel, with the intensity tipping into overwrought.
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.
I w was immediately drawn in to this story a book that is painful and powerful. Told through the voice of a child who had wisdom to share.#netgalley #abyss
A brief, devastating portrait of a young girl realizing that her parents are capable of thoughtless cruelty.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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