Spanish novelist and film director Loriga (Tokyo Doesn't Love Us Anymore, 2004, etc.) traces the fortunes of a married couple progressing through an increasingly dystopian landscape.
Some dystopian fiction abounds with specifics, the better to comment on the present moment. Loriga’s novel—his third to appear in the U.S.—takes a more ambiguous and archetypal route. The narrator and his wife have been married a long time—long enough, at least, to have two sons old enough to be fighting in a war where they may or may not have been killed. When the novel begins, a silent child has been living with the couple for six months. “He was wounded when he arrived, which was part of why we started caring for him,” the narrator writes. The boy’s silence hangs over the book: Like the fate of the couple’s children, it’s unclear if it denotes something sinister or is a pause before a return to normalcy. Loriga balances granular details, such as the class differences between the husband and wife, with more ambiguous elements. The novel takes a shift into a more overtly science-fictional mode when the couple and their young charge are forced to move to a city—one where the buildings are transparent and privacy is a thing of the past. There are hints here of the government’s potential for repressive violence and something unsettling happening with the regulation of hygiene, but, largely, life goes on. The narrator finds a job and settles into a routine, and it’s only after time passes that he begins to realize that things are very wrong in both this society and his marriage. At times the book's subtlety feels too restrained, but its climax packs abundant weight.
Blending a realistic portrait of a marriage with a symbolic setting brings mixed results, but this novel still has plenty of power.