A newcomer to an all-girls orphanage invents a violent game for the other children to play each night.
Marina is in the back seat of her parents’ car during the accident that kills them both. “My father died instantly, my mother in the hospital,” is the refrain she hears, over and over again, from the doctors, nurses, and psychiatrists at the hospital. It’s the same refrain she repeats to the adults at the orphanage to which she is soon taken. Barba’s (August, October, 2015, etc.) fourth novel to appear in English describes the haunting, mysterious world of prepubescent girls. He switches back and forth from Marina’s perspective to the collective point of view of the other girls. They’re a kind of unified body, and Marina, who is new and freshly beset by grief, is not unlike a virus in their midst. One day, Marina impales a caterpillar on a stick, and the other girls gather round to watch. Not long after, Marina invents a “game” for the girls to play each night. “It’s easy,” she tells them. “Each night, one of you is the doll. I put on her makeup, and she’s the doll. And the rest of us look at her and play with her. She’ll be a good dolly, and we’ll be good to her.” It’s a dark, insoluble game, both erotic and violent. Barba’s descriptions of the furtive, nearly cabalistic world of children are wonderful and disturbing. The border between what is real and what isn’t has been fogged over. His writing is both lyrical and spare, and the slim volume, which can be read in a single sitting, carries a heft far outweighing its physical presence. Barba’s girls, and their game, will linger in the minds of his readers.
A darkly evocative work about young girls, grief, and the unsettling, aching need to belong.