three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-DeliriumDuring Pablo Escobar’s corrupt Colombian regime, Aguilar, a former literature professor, resorts to selling dog food for a living. Upon returning from a trip, he finds that his beautiful wife, Agustina, has gone mad. As he tries to piece together the events that caused her breakdown, he starts to uncover her mysteries. Through several narrative voices—including one of Agustina’s former lovers, Midas McAlister, a money launderer for the Medellín drug cartel—we learn of Agustina’s emotionally troubled, upper-class past, her alleged psychic powers, her delusional German grandfather, and the painful memories that plague her. As she deteriorates, she—and the delirium of love—become an allegory for Colombian society’s ills.
Nan A. Talese. 320 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0385519907

Philadelphia Inquirer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Every word in Delirium, the English translation of this Colombian author’s prize-winning novel, is perfectly chosen, painfully honest and brutally effective. … [H]ere, wrapped around what pretends to be a mystery novel, is proof that life, love and betrayal are all inescapable forms of madness." Elizabeth Fox

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] book-and-a-half: stunning, dense, complex, mind-blowing. … Put more plainly, do all of us carry a series of unseen, often unnoticed neural firecrackers in the brain, set to go off randomly when we least expect them?" Carolyn See

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Delirium is a disconcertingly lovely book, and its depiction of Colombian society at an awful moment in its history (and a few awful times before) is sharp, vivid, utterly persuasive. … The central idea turns out to be the inarguable but disappointingly ordinary one that keeping secrets can be destructive." Terrence Rafferty

Denver Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The result is a work that doesn’t always succeed, but is so lovely and daring that even when it falls short of the mark, it is worth the investment of time and treasure. … The structure of the novel is complex; each section of narrative is short and separated from its predecessor by no more than an ellipsis." Robin Vidimos

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Agustina is a deeply felt, richly imagined character in this complex novel, but the overbearing weight of symbolic purpose makes her presence more didactic than entertaining. … We always want to know why, even when the ‘why’ is unknowable—but therein lies the biggest issue for the book." Timothy Peters

Oregonian 2 of 5 Stars
"Clever revelations, withheld to the final pages, provide answers. … Delirium is smart and well-plotted but cold at heart and hardly revelatory: the corruption of Colombian society is old news." Maya Muir

Critical Summary

Is it possible to remain sane in an insane place? Colombian author Laura Restrepo’s sixth novel, which won the 2004 Premio Alfaguara and the 2006 Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy, provides a multifaceted answer to this question. In exploring how madness affects many levels of society, from government to family, Restrepo offers an intriguing, superbly written (and translated), and psychologically rich novel that reads like a mystery unraveled backward. Critics agreed that some voices, including McAlister’s and Aguilar’s, are extremely compelling, while Agustina’s is less so. That Agustina is a symbolic stand-in for Colombia’s ills also bothered a few, as did the ambiguous nature of her breakdown.