Mouthful of birds by Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of birds by Smanta Schweblin

Argentinean short fiction

Original title – Pájaros en la boca

Translator – Megan McDowell

Source – library copy

When the longlist of the Man Booker came out I was happy I had one book on the list and had read half of it just in case it made the longlist as I had it on loan from the library. This is the second book by Samanta Schweblin to be listed by the man Booker international prize. She has published three collections of short stories and one novel. She was chosen by Granta in 2010 as one of the best 22 Spanish language writers under 35. I enjoyed her previous shortlisted book Fever Dream.

When she reaches the road, Felicity understandsher fate. He has not waited for her, and, as if the pastwere a tangible thing, she thinks she can still see the weak reddish glow of the car’s taillights fading on the horizon. In the flat darkness of the countryside, there is only disappointment, a wedding dress, and a bathroom she shouldn’t have taken so long in

Sitting on a rock beside the door, she picks grains of rice from embroidery on her dress, with nothing to look at but the open fields, the highway, and, besides the highway, a women’s bathroom.

The opening lines of the first story Headlights a woman jilted on her wedding day.

The collection has twenty stories. The opening story Headlights is a tale of a bride jilted left by the side of the road. I was hit by one line in the opening as she picked the rice from the embroidery of her dress so soon after they haven’t even fallen out themselves. Ther woman Felicity then wanders and meets another woman Nene who it seems was expecting her to be there. Then the next story sees a pregnant woman and her partner trying to get free of the pregnancy in some strange ways. Further on a strange tale of a brother visiting his depressed brother Walter a man that everything is a struggle for him to do. The title story is Sara who has decided she will only eat living birds a macabre tale and how it affects her relationships with her father he comes to take her to live with him after hearing about his daughter’s new diet. It ends with a bird being left in Sara’s room in a cardboard box and the door being closed. Then lastly the Merman a woman heads to a dockside bar and finds him sat on a post nearby looking at her the two have a conversation. In which she explains about her ill mother who is slightly insane and how her brother isn’t accepting the fact she somehow ends up kissing the merman.

I’m sitting at the port, waiting for Daniel, when I see the merman look at me from the pier. He’s sitting on the first concrete column, where the water is deeper and the beach hasn’t begun, some fifty yard out. It takes me a minute to relize what I’ seeing, what he is eexactly: such a man from the waist up, such a sea creature from the waist down.He looks to one side, then calmly to the other, and finally his eyes turn back to me.

The woman sat having a coffee has caught the eye of the merman the two then talk .

I enjoyed fever dream but for me, this collection maybe shows her real talent is with short stories there is a real sense of the supernatural and surreal at times in this collection. Schweblin has cleverly left place out of this collection which means it makes the tales more universal in there feeling. She also seems to nod towards the great of short stories a pinch of Poe in the supernatural tales, in the depressing ones I saw a real touch of Raymond Carver for me the opening tale especially had hints of his sorrowful style. even Roald Dahl in the darkness in the tales which is something he was great at.  then if Borges had rewritten Grimms tales for a modern reader he would produce something like this the merman for example where maybe the Mermann is a mirror of what the woman wanted her brother to really be? ok cold to kiss but willing to listen to her. I can see why it made the longlist finishing it off since the list came out it is one of the best short story collections I have read probably since circus Bulgaria

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Mar 15, 2019 @ 21:22:16

    Hi Stu, is this the first time a short story collection has been nominated?

    Reply

  2. 1streading
    Mar 16, 2019 @ 15:24:05

    As you know, I was a big fan of Fever Dream – I enjoyed these too, but not as much. I think it’s harder to win with a collection as it requires a high level of consistency, which I don’t think this has – some great stories but others which are interesting but don’t quite work. That’s not really a criticism as I see it as like a album where tracks which are not the ‘best’ can also be your favourites.

    Reply

    • winstonsdad
      Mar 16, 2019 @ 18:32:51

      Yes that’s a good way of looking at it there was a few great stories and some that were maybe sketches of great stories she has three collection maybe a best of them would have been better but

      Reply

  3. Bellezza
    Mar 18, 2019 @ 00:49:39

    You shed a new perspective on these stories. I respect you, but I still don’t like them. I’m not terribly fond of the short story genre in the first place, and I am even less fond of evil tale after evil tale in an endless stream. Isn’t interesting how we feel about books?

    Reply

  4. Bellezza
    Mar 18, 2019 @ 00:51:33

    I never thanked you, Stu, for letting me on the first IFFP Shadow Jury. It is a great joy to me to continue, but again, I miss you dreadfully.

    Reply

  5. Scott
    Mar 18, 2019 @ 12:03:02

    I thought at least six of these stories were terrific but – overall – wasn’t as impressed with this as much as Fever Dream.

    Reply

  6. Trackback: That was the month that was March 2019 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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