‘To create that darkness, you have to create a convincing light, for the contrast.’
Author Mariana Enríquez and translator Megan McDowell speak about the 2021 International Booker Prize-longlisted The Dangers of Smoking in Bed.
Hi Mariana, what has it been like to be longlisted?
Very surprising, very flattering and of course surreal in the pandemic. It’s like news from a different world.
How would you summarise The Dangers of Smoking in Bed in one sentence?
Stories about our ghosts, our history and its violence.
Which story from the collection is your favourite?
Do you feel like the issues you bring up in the stories – inequality, austerity, misogyny – are ones being written about enough in Argentina?
Yes. It’s our reality and many writers engage with these issues, in different ways.
Hi Megan, what has it been like to be longlisted?
A joy, as always. Especially in this difficult year, when work and literature have offered one of the few bright spots amid so much uncertainty.
What did you enjoy about translating The Dangers of Smoking in Bed?
Its creepiness. I love translating things that make me squirm a little.
Which story in the collection was your favourite to translate?
Tough to choose just one… I definitely liked Our Lady of the Quarry and it’s plural, mean girl narrator. I liked the slow unfolding of the zombie-kid horror in Kids Who Come Back. The visceral shock of Meat. They’re stories you can come back to over and over and always find something new.
The stories in The Dangers of Smoking in Bed are dark in tone. How did you create the tone and suspense in your translation?
I’d say it has a lot to do with voice. In a couple of the stories, like Angelita Unearthed or Back When We Talked to the Dead, the voices relating the stories are nonchalant or almost dismissive about the supernatural elements. In the former, the narrator is horrified at first, but then she starts doing things like sticking the ‘angel baby’ in the closet or carrying her around in a baby harness, and it’s funny in a gruesome way. In the latter, the voice is a teenage girl, and she and her friends almost seem to take it for granted that they’re channeling the dead – that’s related as a fact, and much more time is spent describing their non-supernatural living situations. I guess the idea being that it’s the details of the characters’ normal lives that makes the abnormal parts hit harder. Knowing that the narrator of Where are You Dear Heart initiated her fetish by falling in love with Helen in Jane Eyre (my favourite book as a kid, too!) makes the outcome of the story extra disturbing, because I relate to her. So I guess my answer is that to create that darkness, you have to create a convincing light, for the contrast.