A prominent Colombian family’s degradation and undoing mirror their country’s victimization by murderous drug lords in this ambitious novel, the author’s sixth in English translation.
Four narrators share the story of the Londoños of Bogotá, at least one of whom exhibits a deeply divided personality. She’s Agustina, a bewitchingly beautiful “lunatic” who drifts in and out of promiscuity and paranoia, and who, in memories of her childhood and youth (in which she often refers to herself in the third person), broods obsessively over her not-quite-sisterly affection for her frail, effeminate younger brother Bichi, the prime target of their domineering father’s violent physical abuse. Complementary and contrasting stories are told by Agustina’s doting husband, Aguilar, 16 years her senior, and a university professor unemployed due to ongoing political unrest (and reduced to delivering dog food); her former lover Midas McAllister, a drug-dealer in nervous thrall to internationally powerful overlord Pablo Escobar; and her German grandfather Nicholás Portulinus, a piano teacher whose cosmetic marriage to his former student Blanca masks his sexual attraction to nubile young musicians of both genders. Much of this is seductive and enthralling, and sharp characterizations (the best being the indirect one of the malevolent, unstable Escobar) keep the reader interested throughout. But the multiple narratives are presented without transitions and, too often, are so confusing that the reader is hard-pressed to decipher exactly who successively introduced characters are (a prime example: Agustina’s duplicitous and dangerous other brother Joaco), and how they’re all interconnected. Nonetheless, Restrepo’s unflinching portrayal of Agustina’s—and, by implication, Colombia’s—reluctance to confront her demons has genuine power, and many of this sometimes ungainly novel’s big scenes are hard to shake off.
After the treacly The Angel of Galilea (1998) and the acrid Leopard in the Sun (1999), you never know what you’ll get from Restrepo. Delirium is one of her better books.