Guest Post by Colm McKenna
Lina Meruane’s novel Nervous System evokes the universal fear of illness and death on nearly every page. The story follows Ella through her struggles to finish a doctoral thesis funded entirely by her father’s savings. Her partner, El, is a forensic scientist, who is recovering from an explosion at a work site. After wishing sickness on herself – so she could concentrate solely on her thesis – Ella is suddenly overcome by an undiagnosable illness.
The story is presented in small fragments, often delving into seemingly innocuous memories, to brutal statistics about illness and the end of life on earth. These fragments match the tone of the half-formed anxious thoughts that fill the story. Death is treated as if its reality was becoming clear for the first time. There are lines that could have come from any textbook – “the heart was a muscle that could give out” – but in Nervous System, they lose their objectivity, inducing only fear. References to the ancients’ explanations of illness abound, reflecting the book’s treatment of these grim subjects; the fear and anxiety they evoke remain largely the same, despite technological advances.
Nervous System concerns itself with issues that are hard to accept, but there is solace to be found in hearing another voice confront the hard facts of life on our behalf.
Nervous System by Lina Meruane, translated by Megan McDowell. Atlantic Books, February 2022.
Reviewer Bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton and a range of Latin American writers.