“You have something of mine, I passed on something of me to you, and hopefully it isn’t cursed, I don’t know if I can leave you something that isn’t dirty, that isn’t dark, our share of night”
Although I have previously quoted Lady Gaga’s iconic “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before, unafraid to reference or not reference, put it in a blender, shit on it, vomit on it, eat it, give birth to it.” to describe my feelings for another book, I can’t help but use them again in this review as they really capture my sentiments & thoughts towards Our Share of Night.
“He also remembered his father’s words, nothing can hurt you now, how long was now, how long did the present last?”
This is an elaborate genre-bending work that defies easy categorisations. Even a summary or a rundown of the story would not do it justice. It is dark, grotesque, obscure, and frankly mind-boggling. Yet, the way Mariana Enríquez manages to combine together tropes, themes, and aesthetics associated with the fantasy, gothic, and horror genres is utterly mesmerizing. Much of the narrative is animated by a fraught father-son relationship, one that is complicated by monstrous inheritances and destinies, sickness, and a history of violence, abuse and destruction. Over the course of the novel, Enríquez weaves together an unsettling tapestry, one that I was unable to look away from. As Enríquez navigates haunted people and places, the price of power and privilege, and the dark side of faith, she incorporates motifs of the uncanny and the Other while also presenting us with striking, and frankly horrifying, images of the abject and the sublime. While there is much brutality and cruelty within the pages of Our Share of Night, those almost work towards making those rare moments of lightness and tenderness all the more precious. The writing has this cinematic quality to it, one that results in some visually arresting & often disturbing scenes. The characters populating the story defy easy categorisation, with the exception perhaps of the older members of the Order (who are all f*cking evil). Ambivalence permeates the story and its characters, whose motives and desires more often than not elude and alienate us, allowing plenty of room for interpretation.
“There is no greater disappointment than to believe oneself the chosen one and not to be chosen.”
The narrative begins in January 1981 with a road trip. Juan, recently widowed, is in his late 20s and making his way from Buenos Aires with his son to visit his in-laws’ estate, in northeast Argentina. His choice to drive there seems rather injudicious given the country’s climate of terror, and that his in-laws had bought him airplane tickets. But Juan needs to spend time alone with his son, Gaspar, as he is desperately trying to protect him from his own faith. His in-laws are prominent members of the Order, a cult formed by nauseatingly wealthy people who have powerful connections all over the world. The Order, we learn, has exploited Juan not only for his ability to see and commune with the dead but because his body can host the Darkness. To summon it they are willing to commit atrocities that defy human comprehension, be it enslaving and torturing children or driving their own members insane in ways that are too repulsive to mention here. Juan knows that the Order has its sights on Gaspar, and is painfully aware that he won’t be alive long enough to watch over him so he hatches a desperate plan to keep his son safe, even if it requires him to commit his own cruelties and even if it will inevitably push his son away from him.
“I’m going to miss him, he thought, I’ll be glad when he’s gone because without him it’ll be easier to stop being sad, but I’m going to miss him…”
We are later reunited with Gaspar in 1985 where we read of his bond with three other children, and of his fraying relationship with his father Juan, whose mercurial behaviour he can never predict or comprehend. The dictatorship’s aftermath, 80s popular culture and memorable events, make for a vivid backdrop against which Gaspar and his friends grow up. A sense of growing unease obfuscates much of his childhood, as his father begins to act in an increasingly incomprehensible and ‘deranged’ way. But Juan refuses to let Gaspar in, and in doing so their relationship begins to fray. Resentment and confusion lead Gaspar to find solace in his group of friends…but after one of their daring exploits takes a devastating turn, nothing is ever the same for them.
“It had the look of a spot where something bad had happened: an expectant air. Evil places wait for evil things to reoccur, or else they seek it out.”
We then learn more about Gaspar’s mother, a woman who was complicit in the horrors and agenda of the Order, but someone who nonetheless was trying to steer the power away from the evilest people in the cult, her mother included. Her devotion to the Darkness and her inability to understand its true repercussion and ramifications (most of all on Juan) did not endear her to me. But her youth and upbringing do play a part in the way she understands this force and even if I could not bring myself to like her I appreciated that she wasn’t made into a saint-like figure (the typical dead mother of the ‘chosen one’).
“There is no arguing with faith, though. And it’s impossible to disbelieve when the Darkness comes. So, we trust, and we go on. At least, that’s what many of us do.”
The novel concludes with a traumatized Gaspar trying to live with and make sense of his father’s dark inheritance. Here Enríquez interrogates the realities of living with the kind of baggage Gaspar is carrying around, and of the way, his exposure to some Dark Shit™ has irrevocably changed him.
As I said, this story is Dark. The type of dark that requires every trigger warning under the sun. While there are certain scenes and some elements within the story they do toe the line with being gratuitous and sensationalistic, what ultimately comes through is the empathy Enríquez demonstrates towards her core characters. There is a lot of politically incorrect language (particularly when talking about disabilities, amputees, poc & lgbtq+ ppl) but given the story’s setting, it seemed ‘realistic’ enough. Sure I did question the choice to have the only really explicit sex scenes be between men, and how we had to have a scene of a young teen questioning his sexuality just happen to ‘spy’ on two men having sex or his having to be enamoured with his straight best friend (i am kind of done with this trope tbh) but these are minor criticisms. I did mostly like the way Enríquez challenges the gay/straight dichotomy and the story’s esoteric take on the ‘androgyne’. Additionally I also liked that she incorporated the Guaraní language (as well as some beliefs) in her story.
My heart went out to Gaspar, even when he acted in a way that made me (or his loved ones) despair. True, the boy could be a bit basic (on his first crush: Belén “wanted too study engineering: she was different from other girls”; and: “the woman, though older, was beautiful; she wore no make-up—Gaspar didn’t like how make-up looked, especially lipstick”) but Enríquez really manages to make us feel and understand his struggle. From a child living in a solitary house with his inscrutable & volatile father, whose capacity and propensity to hurt him often leaves him feeling confused and afraid, to a teenager and young adult wracked by guilt and haunted by a force he cannot begin to comprehend, Gaspar is subjected to so much sorrow, sadness, and abuse throughout this story that it is impossible not to feel for him, especially when we witness how the years have eaten away at him. Enríquez also allows us to understand, never quite condone, Juan and his ways, and it was heartbreaking to see how much his experiences with the Order change him.
“Even wih all the hatred, contempt, ambivalence, and repulsion he felt towards the Order, that power was still his, and he didn’t posses many things. Renunciations is easy when you have a lot, he thought. He had never had anything.”
While the Order’s ideology and the way it operates are ultimately as horrifying as they are mystifying, we witness (first-hand or not) the terrifying lengths that they will go to achieve their goal. Their willingness and eagerness to exploit vulnerable people is reprehensible, and yet their wealth and ancestry (most are of white european heritage) endow them with the belief that they are more deserving than others, that their lives are more valuable.
In addition to crafting a brutal yet gripping tale about the lengths a father will go to to protect his son, Enríquez gives Gaspar’s own coming-of-age storyline a horror spin, making Our Share of Night into a difficult to pigeonhole novel. There were also so many details related to the time period the story unfolds in that made the setting seem hyper-real (making those places of horror all the more unsettling). Yet, while Enríquez’s nuanced portrayal of 80s Argentina grounds the characters in reality, their experiences with otherworldly forces ultimately transport them (and us) into more fantastical and macabre places.
While Our Share of Night is a distinctly unique book, I was reminded of several authors & books, the most obvious being Stephen King (a hotel room? a child seeing dead ppl? a group of kids who are dealing with some-thing-place that is truly evil?), Neil Gaiman, Scott Hawkins, the Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra, T. Kingfisher’s The Hollow Places, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand, Helen Oyeyemi, Cadwell Turnbull’s No Gods, No Monsters (which i didn’t get but i might revisit it having loved this), Alex Landragin’s Crossings and quite a lot of horror collection of short stories, written by authors such as Amparo Dávila, Octavia E. Butler, and Sayaka Murata. I was even reminded of Stranger Things & Baccano!. So if you happen to like any of the names I just mentioned you should definitely consider picking up Our Share of Night. I much preferred it to Enríquez’s short stories, so even if you like me, were not particularly taken by her storytelling there, I recommend you give this a chance.
I am definitely planning on re-reading this.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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