Elly McDonald

Writer

Such Small Hands (2017) by Andres Barba translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman

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Such_Small_Hands

Edmund White states in his Afterword that in this slim novella, Such Small Hands, Spanish writer Andres Barba “has returned us to the nightmare of childhood”.

Maybe it’s a Spanish thing. Of the many pop culture associations that sprang to my mind reading Such Small Hands, perhaps the closest is the 2006 Spanish film Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno), written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth is as dark a nightmare of childhood as I could ever accommodate.

Truth to tell, I find myself pushing away this small book because it’s just too dark.

I find myself dismissing it as a kind of party trick, a Halloween party trick. Very clever, very skilled. Very scary. Nothing to do with me or mine.

If I were an agent, pitching this tale, I’d pitch it as an all-girl Lord of the Flies set in an orphanage, meets Courtney Love singing Doll Parts. Meets Euripides’ The Bacchae.

Plus Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

With that scene from Barbarella with the vicious dolls. And Anita Pallenberg as the Grand Tyrant.

Got it?

I’m not an agent, and some things get under my skin.

This tale is apparently based on a real-life incident in an orphanage in Brazil in about 1960. The presenting circumstance is that a child is orphaned: a child loses her parents. With her parents, she loses her protections in life. Much as the child did in Pan’s Labyrinth.

Wake up you sleepy head
Put on some clothes, shake up your bed
Put another log on the fire for me
I’ve made some breakfast and coffee
Look out my window what do I see
A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me
All the nightmares came today
And it looks as though they’re here to stay
[…]
I think about a world to come
Where the books were found by the golden ones
Written in pain, written in awe
By a puzzled man who questioned
What we were here for
All the strangers came today
And it looks as though they’re here to stay

David Bowie, 1971, Oh You Pretty Things

Author: Elly McDonald

Art lover. Loves her family and companion animals. Worked in the Australian rock music industry as a journalist and published widely as a poet before moving to London and spending the better part of a decade in advertising agencies. Returned to Australia and briefly tried teaching, primarily teaching English to non-English speaking, newly-arrived refugees but also as a high school classroom teacher. Has travelled Western Europe, North Africa, Russia, Northern India, East Asia, coastal USA, some Pacific Islands, and Australia.

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