The Dangers of Smoking in Bed - Reading Guide
Explore the ‘magical realism 2.0’ of Mariana Enríquez, and her extraordinary combination of ‘horror story, ghost story and pulp fiction’
Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021. Mariana Enríquez populates contemporary urban Argentina with a macabre cast of crooked witches, unruly teenagers, homeless ghosts and hungry women. Translated by Megan McDowell.
As terrifying as they are socially conscious, the stories press into the unspoken - fetish, illness, the female body, the darkness of human history - with bracing urgency. A woman is sexually obsessed with the human heart; a lost, rotting baby crawls out of a backyard and into a bedroom; a pair of teenage girls can’t let go of their idol; an entire neighbourhood is cursed to death when it fails to respond correctly to a moral dilemma.
About the AuthorMariana Enríquez was shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize. She is a novelist, journalist and short story writer from Argentina.
About the TranslatorMegan McDowell has translated books by many contemporary South American and Spanish authors, including Samanta Schweblin, Alejandro Zambra and Mariana Enriquez.
‘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.’
Read the full interview here.
‘An extraordinarily intelligent collection of short stories that knowingly uses the tropes of the horror story, the ghost story and even pulp fiction to think about Argentina’s painful past. In the process, it fashions a ‘Magical Realism Version 2.0’, from a subtly feminist perspective. Smart, political, unputdownable.’
Hamilton Cain, Oprah Daily
‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed establishes Enríquez as a premier literary voice. Enríquez’s extraordinary and extraordinarily ominous – fiction holds up a mirror to our bewildering times, when borders between the everyday and the inexplicable blur, and converge.’
Anjanette Delgado, New York Journal of Books
‘The Danger of Smoking in Bed underlines the darkness of evil. By allowing a glimpse of its opposite: that light that will give hope, that sign that might show the path back to life for the women on the page, and for the women before it.’
Federico Perelmuter, Los Angeles Review of Books
‘In her new bestiary of nightmares and curses, Enríquez offers a key to Argentina’s recent history and a literary project of breathtaking amplitude and ambition. The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is, above all, the beginning of an imaginative sequence whose promise only grows.’
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian
‘The beautiful, horrible world of Mariana Enriquez, as glimpsed in The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, with its disturbed adolescents, ghosts, decaying ghouls, the sad and angry homeless of modern Argentina, is the most exciting discovery I’ve made in fiction for some time.’
Elizabeth Gonzalez James, Ploughshares
‘Enriquez’s gaze throughout the collection is unflinching, taking readers into dark and grotesque territory, yet it is her morality, a pervasive sense of right and wrong, that anchors each story and prevents the collection from veering into the lurid horror of tabloid tragedy.’
Lucy Phelps reads from The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, written by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell and shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize.
This video was created for Edinburgh International Book Festival in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and directed by Blanche McIntyre.