Paperbacks: The Poison that Fascinates, By Jennifer Clement

Canongate, £10.99

Reviewed,Brandon Robshaw
Sunday 20 January 2008 15:13

Emily's mother vanished without explanation when Emily was six months old. She lives with her father, a butterfly collector, in Mexico City, and helps out at the local orphanage, run by the giantess Sister Agata.

A mysterious cousin, Santi, appears from the desert, moves in and shares Emily's bed. He is a dark-skinned freckled architect with a tendency to sadism; he smells of melons and holds the key to the disappearance of Emily's mother.

Chapters have wilfully odd titles, such as "Well, She's Walking in the Clouds", or "Page 108 can be a Child Lost in a Forest"; Clement uses the modish device of including lots of lists (saints and their specialities, the parts of a pair of scissors) and each chapter ends with a vignette of a famous murderess. Despite all the tricksiness it's written in a curiously languid style: the sort of thing that might have been produced by Angela Carter on Valium. It is perhaps a little long for its length – as a novella, every rift would have been loaded with ore. But those who like their novels weird, unpredictable and magic realist in tone and atmosphere, will find plenty to enjoy here.

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