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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Natural Histories

Guadalupe Nettel

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To purchase Natural Histories

Title: Natural Histories
Author: Guadalupe Nettel
Genre: Stories
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 121 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Natural Histories - US
El matrimonio de los peces rojos - US
Natural Histories - UK
Natural Histories - Canada
Natural Histories - India
El matrimonio de los peces rojos - España
  • Spanish title: El matrimonio de los peces rojos
  • Translated by J.T.Lichtenstein

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Our Assessment:

B : well-told stories, in a well-conceived collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 26/7/2013 Ricardo Senabre
Letras Libres . 9/2013 Liliana Colanzi

  From the Reviews:
  • "No parece mucho, pero es suficiente para acreditar una maestría poco frecuente en el dominio de la narración breve , con historias que, en algunos casos, se extienden a lo largo de varios años, hábilmente comprimidos en unas pocas páginas." - Ricardo Senabre, El Cultural

  • "La autora da cuenta de la complejidad psicológica del ser humano a través de una escritura diáfana que se toma su tiempo para construir atmósferas emocionales y que muestra una rara mezcla de ironía y compasión hacia sus personajes." - Liliana Colanzi, Letras Libres

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Natural Histories is a collection of five stories, each narrated in the first person. They cover extended periods of time, focused on a significant period in the narrator's life, often with a great shift in personal relationships. Each also has a connection to animal life -- or, in the case of 'Fungus', fungal life.
       In 'The Marriage of the Red Fish' the life of a married couple, expecting and then with their first child, seems almost a direct reflection of what goes on in their fish bowl (and then aquarium), where they keep their fish -- Betta splendens, Siamese fighting fish. They get two of them as a gift, a few month before the narrator is to give birth; later, they get a third (naming it 'Oblomov'); like the couple's relationship, the fish do not fare well.
       The animals in the stories are used as a variety of counterparts to the narrators and others in these stories. In 'The Snake from Beijing' the animal takes on a weighty symbolic role, while 'War in the Trash Cans' sees a household war waged against an invasion of cockroaches (though ending also with a symbolic lone orphaned cockroach, much like the forlorn-feeling narrator at that time). Animals -- or a fungus -- can help the narrator during a time of transition: 'War in the Trash Cans' is a story where the narrator admits early on: "My fascination for insects emerged at a young age" (the narrator meanwhile having become a biology professor, specializing in insects), while the cats in 'Felina' are a stabilizing influence for a student preparing for the next stages in her life (as, for example: "The cats, unlike the roommates, provided genuine and stable company").
       Each of the stories is almost exactly the same length -- twenty pages --, save the longer first one, and each takes its time, focusing not on a single incident or episode, but following characters in transition. In some cases -- the young child of 'War in the Trash Cans', in which the separating parents more or less abandon the child, sending it off to live with relatives -- it is the external circumstances that change, but regardless, there is a tremendous effect on each of the narrators. Each story is marked by a failed relationship, with Nettel's focus less on any possible reasons than in just describing the disintegration.
       Nettel presents these tales well: each unfolds nicely (if often rather darkly), the focus on description rather than analysis helping draw the reader into these situations and lives. Yet as neither simple vignettes not full-fledged life-stories, the pieces in Natural Histories can feel uncertain in purpose: there is the occasional hint of what becomes of the characters ("I've been a biology professor at the Universidad de Valle de México for over ten years", the narrator of 'War in the Trash Cans' explains before leaping back into the past that led to that), but most are left at loose ends of sorts.
       These are good stories, and there's a nice unity to the collection -- not too obvious and forced, but sufficient -- and, with only five stories, it feels just the right size. Still, it's also the sort of thing that reaffirms at least this reader's belief in the (complete) primacy of the novel; fully-formed and technically certainly good, these remain simply stories -- fine morsels but hardly a meal; appealing small studies, but not full-fledged works.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 June 2014

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Natural Histories: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel was born in 1973.

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© 2014 the complete review

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