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Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro review – two women, one missing child

The abduction of a boy in Mexico City is told from opposing perspectives in this gripping study of motherhood

Translated by Sophie Hughes, this powerfully bleak Mexican debut is a taut two-hander that examines motherhood through the prism of a child’s abduction. It’s narrated by two unnamed women in Mexico City. The first – middle-class, married to a man from Spain – tells us that her three-year-old son, Daniel, hasn’t been seen since he went missing in a playground while she was absorbed in her phone: the man she was having an affair with had just texted to break things off. Now unable to get out of bed, she’s dead-eyed with self-loathing, her agony intensified by having to care for her husband’s Catalan niece, Nagore, of whom they took custody after the girl’s father murdered her mother. This is a novel in which violence is endemic.

Empty Houses starts very much in the vein of contemporary fiction about put-upon women whose circumstances tip them into misanthropy; think of Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, the rise of Ottessa Moshfegh and the post-Gone Girl vogue for marital thrillers. “Breastfeeding is the reflex of mothers who, given that they can’t eat their children, wish to smother them instead,” Daniel’s mother reflects. “We offer the breast not only on instinct but out of an obliterated desire to kill our progeny before it’s too late.”

Navarro puts you in the shoes of a child snatcher frantically building a life based on unsustainable lies

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In the End, It Was All About Love by Musa Okwonga review – affirmative autofiction

The British author weighs the worth of a writer’s life in this intimate blend of memoir and fiction...

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No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood review – richly tragicomic debut novel

Satire and heartache collide in the Priestdaddy author’s funny portrait of a woman’s real and onli...

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A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies review – a raw account of fatherhood

Little is left to the imagination in a tender work of autofiction about a writing teacher’s experie...

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Megha Majumdar: ‘Books do nothing for a lot of people'

The author of acclaimed debut novel A Burning on how being an editor informs her writing, and why he...

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Memorial by Bryan Washington review – the messy side of love

An unexpected visitor places extra strain on a couple’s rocky relationship in the award-winning Ame...

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David Keenan: 'I no longer want a book with a point'

The Scottish author on life as a music journalist, writing about the Troubles and why he happily los...

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