Still Born

A Novel

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Pub Date 08 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 31 Jul 2023
Bloomsbury USA, Bloomsbury Publishing

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Shortlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize

For readers of Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti, Still Born is a profound novel about motherhood, creativity, and the power of friendship and community to make caretaking easier from “one of the leading lights in contemporary Latin American literature” (Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive).

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 is so determined not to become a mother that she has taken the drastic decision to have her tubes tied. But when she announces this to her friend, she learns that Alina has made the opposite decision and is preparing to have a child of her own.

Alina's pregnancy shakes the women's lives, first creating distance and then a remarkable closeness between them. When Alina's daughter survives childbirth – after a diagnosis that predicted the opposite – and Laura becomes attached to her neighbor's son, both women are forced to reckon with the complexity of their emotions, their needs, and the needs of the people who are dependent upon them.

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.

Shortlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize

For readers of Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti, Still Born is a profound novel about motherhood, creativity, and the power of friendship and community...

Advance Praise

“Taut . . . The prose, which appears in an elegant translation by Rosalind Harvey, retains a matter-of-factness, and in some places a synoptic quality that is rarely freighted with sadness or despair . . . It’s friendship, not crisis, that emerges as the novel’s focal point . . . Nettel . . . seems to be saying that ‘normal mothers’ do think ugly thoughts—or rather, that there is no such thing as a ‘normal mother.’ There is a strong tradition of works that connect maternal ambivalence to horror tropes—Rosemary’s Baby, The Fifth Child, We Need to Talk about Kevin—but Still Born is different . . . Nettel is making a case for chosen kinship.” —Sarah Resnick, London Review of Books

“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

“Guadalupe Nettel is a brilliant anatomist of love and perversity, and each new book is a revelation.” —Katie Kitamura, author of Intimacies

"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

"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

"Nettel is free. She has succeeded in creating an audacious narrative style all her own, a singular and fearless way of being in the world. An essential voice of the new Latin American literature." —Enrique Vila-Matas, author of Mac’s Problem

"Still Born is an astonishingly elegant, intelligent, affecting novel, which has stayed in my mind from the moment I began it to long after I finished. I felt a huge sense of relief that I had encountered a work of art about ambivalence in mothering which encompassed a true authentic range of emotions and curiosities – vanity, aggression, jealousy and selfishness – with sanguine acceptance, as well as the beautiful and difficult project of giving and sustaining love which marks all our lives, mothers or otherwise." —Megan Nolan, author of Acts of Desperation

"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

"Still Born is a rare thing: an unsentimental analysis of the ambivalences and moral complexity of motherhood. It is a book which demands to be discussed, at length, with friends, and I longed to do so." —Jessie Greengrass, author of The High House

"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

"Deeply intelligent, Still Born is a propulsive novel with a depth of feeling so woven into the language that it never feels worn or applied. The denatured quality of the tone means the ideas of the book – the suspicion of the body as having incompatible desires from the mind; the impulses versus the aversions to child-having; the complexities of the mother-child dynamic – all just absolutely sing. I loved it." —Susannah Dickey, author of Common Decency

“Taut . . . The prose, which appears in an elegant translation by Rosalind Harvey, retains a matter-of-factness, and in some places a synoptic quality that is rarely freighted with sadness or despair...

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ISBN 9781639730032
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Featured Reviews

5/5 - Motherhood as choice, not expectation

In this beautifully written, moving novel, Nettel explores ideas related to motherhood and what makes a mother a mother. There is also a taste of feminist protest and a movement related to such, which complements the discourse throughout on the societal expectation of young women to procreate whether they wish to do so or not. Nettel does a fantastic job weaving several stories of several women and children together to show what it means to be a woman and a mother in a real way. Heartbreaking and yet hopeful, this is a must-read for just about anyone.

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The psychological depth of ‘Still Born’ is powerfully resonant and meaningful.
We are taken on heartfelt, heartbreaking, and brave journey.
Nettel plucks away at our raw nerves — the writing is so smooth and keenly observed— I couldn’t pull away.
It’s intricately detailed, deeply felt, compelling and ultimately surprising portraits of young women….so realistic, that their stories become ours.

Laura doesn’t want to have children:
“It’s not the kids that 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 could 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 breast-feeding, 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?’”

Adina does want to have children. She was having trouble conceiving. She was willing to start vitro fertilization.

Nettel takes a large canvas of issues — life - death - choices —unforeseen circumstances and unexpected turns - female solidarity - maternal regret -
friendships - and explores every facet of motherhood complexities.

The book is for everyone — but the real gift is for young women - in their twenties and thirties.

Paul and I have two daughters. Ages 41 and 36.
Neither have children-nor do they plan to have children.
People have often said to me …”oh, poor you…no grandchildren”.
Well….perhaps ‘not poor me’.

I’ve soo much respect and admiration for this book — it’s written with rigor and grace….
committed to honesty and exploration.
It’s radiant and pristine….calling for discussion.

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What a gorgeous, heart-felt novel. I couldn't put it down. I'd read Nettel before, but this feels far and beyond like her best work to date. I have been recommending it like bonkers to everyone. Thank you so much to the publisher for the e-galley!

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I can easily see why Still Born is shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. This book was quite an emotional ride. My first book by Guadalupe Nettel and I'm really looking forward to reading more books by her.

We follow two friends Laura and Alina who are in their 30's and are facing the choice of motherhood. Laura becomes very attached to her 6 year old neighbor who she takes care of while his mother deals with her mental health. Alina becomes pregnant but finds out that her child carries a very rare genetic disorder.

I loved Nettel's style of writing. She did an amazing job making these women feel so real. I also loved how she tackled many issues of women and motherhood.

Thank you to the publisher for gifting me this e-arc. I'm looking forward to buying the physical copy!

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