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Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Bezoar
Book cover for BezoarBook cover for Bezoar

Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine

Intricately woven masterpieces of craft, mournful for their human cries in defiance of our sometimes less than human surroundings, Guadalupe Nettel's stories and novels are dazzlingly enjoyable to read for their deep interest in human foibles. Following on the critical successes of her previous books, Bezoar and Other Unsettling Stories collects six stories that capture her unsettling, obsessive universe. "Ptosis" is told from the point of view of the son of a photographer whose work involves before and after pictures of patients undergoing cosmetic eye surgeries. In "Through Shades," a woman studies a man interacting with a woman through the windows of the apartment across the street. In one of the longer stories, "Bonsai," a man visits a garden, and comes to know a gardener, during the period of dissolution of his marriage. "The Other Side of the Dock" describes a young girl in search of what she terms "True Solitude," who finds a fellow soul mate only to see the thing they share lose its meaning. In "Petals," a woman's odor drives a man to search for her, and even to find her, without quenching the thirst that is his undoing. And the title story, "Bezoar," is an intimate journal of a patient writing to a doctor. Each narrative veers towards unknown and dark corridors, and the pleasures of these accounts lie partly in the great surprise of the familiarity together with the strangeness.

Book cover for Bezoar
Book cover for BezoarBook cover for Bezoar

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“Nettel's eye lightly deforms things and gives rise to a tension, subtle but persistent, that immerses us in an uncomfortable reality, disquieting, even disturbing—a gaze that illuminates her prose like an alien sun shining down on our world.”

Bezoar is a delicate, magnetic carousel. Each story rises into view after the previous one, singular and unsettling, showing us that there is beauty to be found in every defect, and leaving us genuinely astonished at the mesmerizing reflections it casts.”

“The haunting stories in this collection feature characters that inhabit bodies which are strange places, so much so that they lose their human form, or are subjected to macabre investigations or perverse compulsions. Voyeurs, symbiosis, metamorphosis, fluids; the links here are hazy, the relationships with other beings, mutant. Guadalupe Nettel reminds us that there is nothing stranger than existence lived in these containers made of flesh, blood and madness.”

“[A] pocket bestiary of compulsives and fetishists, from an “olfactionist” who scours restaurant bathrooms for the scent of an elusive woman to a medical photographer aroused by images of patients’ irregular eyelids... Bezoar offers a disconcerting pleasure, akin to the uncanny intimacies of Edgar Allan Poe and Diane Arbus... Bezoar’s narrow, dreamlike attention invites unconscious complicity: caught up in dramas of curiosity and concealment, one forgets, momentarily, that the narrator is a man who interprets toilet-bowl skid marks or a woman who can’t stop eating her own hair. Nettel makes it impossible not to notice the latent voyeurism of short fiction, a genre that fixates, much like a fetish, on fragments of strangers’ inner lives.”

“I love the work of Guadalupe Nettel, one of Mexico’s greatest living writers. Her fiction is brilliant and original, always suffused with sensuality and strange science – and these stories in ‘Bezoar’ are among her best.”

“Bezoar and Other Unsettling Stories, by Mexican writer Guadalupe Nettel, makes its debut in Suzanne Jill Levine’s English translation right on time. These six peculiar tales profile solitude and anti-solitude via disquieting scenarios and rich sensorial illustration, driven by the urge to describe that which misses a name. At a loss for words, we turn to stories... Levine’s [translation] triumphantly navigates the delicate dissonance between words, what they describe, and the character who wields them.”

“You may have read Guadalupe Nettel in translation before; her lyrical, measured novel After the Winter was a favorite around these parts. Feel like encountering a very different side of this talented writer? As this book’s title suggests, Bezoar takes her work into a more uncanny, disquieting vein.”

“If you’ve been dying for more Guadalupe Nettel after reading the sharp and stunning After the Winter, translated by Rosalind Harvey, then you’re in luck. In the vein of Silvina Ocampo, Cristina Rivera Garza, and Samanta Schweblin, each story in [BEZOAR] is beautifully crafted and uniquely unsettling. The stories are varied—a medical photographer is infatuated with the eyelid of a young woman, a man comes to a new understanding of the natural world and his own marriage after meeting a gardener, a woman’s odor in an unlikely place drives a man to search for her—but feel connected by Nettel’s elusive prose and their strange, sensory, and obsessive nature.”

“Unusual as they may be, the strange and wistful short fictions in Guadalupe Nettel’s Bezoar: And Other Unsettling Stories are not only clever in their portrayal of human desire and obsession; they are often wise as well. ... Over the course of the book, Nettel and her characters have something fresh to reveal about their unique obsessions and secrets (the stories are told from the first-person perspective). But at just over one hundred pages, Bezoar is an all-too-brief journey through the grey areas and dark recesses of hidden passions, lusts, and compulsions. ... Readers of this collection will encounter Nettel’s impressive literary craftsmanship principally in two contrasting formats: on the one hand, a series of longer narratives that drive toward some kind of pathos, and on the other, a pair of multi-layered vignettes with enough mystery to merit repeated readings. ... [N]o matter how unusual each character’s yearnings may be, as Nettel charts their emotional dramas—doing so with particular success in the longer stories—the portrayals feel honest and without a hint of caricature. ... While inviting us to return to its pages again and again for further clues, Bezoar offers no easy answers. With its nuanced insights, the collection often provides room for further investigation, resisting a sense of true conclusiveness. This could be disappointing in less masterful hands, but in Nettel’s, the medium becomes the message: these stories, like a mirror for human understanding, have rich depths that can be entered but never fully revealed.“”

“This slim collection is described accurately with its subtitle: these are disquieting stories that create a sense that something is very wrong rather than crossing the line into outright horror. What emerges are psychologically rich tales where the mood is overwhelming; for this reader, that’s an excellent thing indeed.”

“Odd and mysterious, even to themselves, the characters in Guadalupe Nettel's Bezoar and Other Unsettling Stories struggle with their eccentricities and compulsions. In "Bonsai" a Japanese salaryman develops an inexplicable affinity for the cacti in a nearby botanical garden. Eventually he realizes that he himself is a cactus and his wife an unhappy vine clinging to him. When he rejects her sexual advances ("her libido became very persistent," he tells us), she leaves. Equally strange is the protagonist of the title story, who can't stop pulling out her hair and eating it. Luckily, unluckily she finds a lover with a similar compulsion—he can't stop cracking his knuckles. At first she's relieved to have someone with whom she can share her secret, but eventually she too flees: "Seeing our own defects in the person we share a life with is intolerable," she tells us. Nettel's characters look and act "normal" most of the time, but what counts as "normal" —jobs, family life, children—is pure torment for them. One feels the ghosts of Poe and Kafka lurking in the background, but also the shade of Dr. Freud. Finally, the girl in the title story checks into a seaside psychiatric clinic, her only hope to throw herself off the promontory into the ocean below. What is Nettel telling us? Perhaps, that some depths are too deep for even depth psychology. Skillfully translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, the unsavory, obsessive inner lives of the characters is subtly communicated in language that always seems appropriate to their surface calm and inner torment.”

Guadalupe Nettel

The New York Times described GUADALUPE NETTEL's acclaimed English language debut collection, Natural Histories (Seven Stories, 2014), as "five flawless stories." A Bogotá 39 author and Granta "Best Untranslated Writer," Nettel has received numerous prestigious awards, including the 2023 El Grand Balam Literary Prize "for her intimate psychological explorations of individuals marginalized from themselves by an often cruel, inexplicable, and wondrous world," the Gilberto Owen National Literature Prize, the Antonin Artaud Prize, the Ribera del Duero Short Fiction Award, and the 2014 Herralde Novel Prize. Her novel, Still Born (Bloomsbury), was shortlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize. In 2015 Seven Stories published her first novel, The Body Where I Was Born. In 2018 her second novel, After the Winter, was published by Coffee House Press. Nettel lives and works in Mexico City.