Delirium is one of those books where I just looked at the blurb and thought ‘yes, this will be good’, because the premise is really striking. A man goes on a business trip for three days and in the time that he’s gone his wife goes mad, so he decides to delve into her past, to see what could have caused it. Did the book live up to the possibilities that the premise presented? I would say mostly.
Delirium‘s narrative structure is quite odd at first, as it switches between four different narratives. There’s Aguilar, the husband, who recounts his desperate attempts to find out what happened while he was away and the effects that his wife Agustina’s madness have on home life; there’s Midas, a former lover of Agustina’s and a drug dealer, who recounts his downfall and the inadvertent effects that he and Agustina have on each other; there’s Agustina’s fragmented memories of her childhood; and finally there’s a third person narrative telling the story of Agustina’s grandparents Nicholas and Blanca, essentially showing that madness could be hereditary. Together, these four narratives create the story of a family that is entrenched in lies and constricted by the ‘necessary’ behaviours of an upper class that is slowly dying out. To be honest, I think that the narrative about the grandparents could have been cut, because, despite the fact that it is interesting to read, it doesn’t really add anything to the story apart from a confirmation of what the reader could figure out for himself: that Agustina’s family are a bunch of screwed up people. Overall, it’s a very well-written and engaging storyline.
But, of course, a good plot isn’t the only thing necessary for a book to work. The characters here are similarly well-written, with such variant personalities as Agustina who oscillates between carefree sanity and various violent expressions of insanity, Midas who starts as a cocksure materialist and who eventually becomes a ruined man and Bichi, Agustina’s younger brother, who is constantly berated and beaten by his father for not being enough of a man. The only two characters whose characterisation I wasn’t fond of were those of Aguilar and Aunt Sofi, for very different reasons. In Aguilar’s case, there really wasn’t anything to make him especially interesting; this may be down to his being surrounded by other characters who are more obviously interesting, but my personal feeling is that he would still be uninteresting no matter who was in the rest of the cast. My problem with Aunt Sofi, who comes to help Aguilar care for Agustina, was that I didn’t really feel that her past and present selves matched up quite right: to me the past Sofi, with her real sense of sexuality and sensuality, felt like a different character to the present Sofi, who could be any grandmother you care to think of; I know that people do change as they age, but it felt like too much change in the context.
My only real problem with this was the ending. Skip to the end if you want to avoid spoilers, should you decide to read this. My problem with the ending was that she just gets better. I can understand that she might have gotten better after a long period of therapy and whatnot, but up until she got better, she had been getting progressively worse and progressively more deranged. So to suddenly just be better seemed a bit of a cop-out to be honest.
So overall, a very strong piece of literature, but I’m still a bit annoyed by the abrupt nature of the ending. I’d still recommend it though, despite its flaws. 3.5/5
Next review: Stranded by Esther Tusquets.