Sea Monstersby Published 05 Feb 2019
Pulsing to the soundtrack of Joy Division, Nick Cave, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sea Monsters offers an intoxicating portrait of Mexico in the late 1980s.
One autumn afternoon in Mexico City, seventeen-year-old Luisa does not return home from school. Instead, she boards a bus to the Pacific coast with Tomás, a boy she barely knows. He seems to represent everything her life is lacking—recklessness, impulse, independence.
Tomás may also help Luisa fulfill an unusual obsession: she wants to track down a traveling troupe of Ukrainian dwarfs. According to newspaper reports, the dwarfs recently escaped a Soviet circus touring Mexico. The imagined fates of these performers fill Luisa’s surreal dreams as she settles in a beach community in Oaxaca. Surrounded by hippies, nudists, beachcombers, and eccentric storytellers, Luisa searches for someone, anyone, who will “promise, no matter what, to remain a mystery.” It is a quest more easily envisioned than accomplished. As she wanders the shoreline and visits the local bar, Luisa begins to disappear dangerously into the lives of strangers on Zipolite, the “Beach of the Dead.”
Meanwhile, her father has set out to find his missing daughter. A mesmeric portrait of transgression and disenchantment unfolds. Sea Monsters is a brilliantly playful and supple novel about the moments and mysteries that shape us.
Sea Monsters Reviews
[3.5] Don’t expect a magical tale involving sea monsters per se. This is an enigmatic, hazy, suggestive novel, perhaps a bit like Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. It’s poetic in the sense that Aridjis is in no hurry whatsoever in terms of plot but rather focuses on describing seemingly inconsequential things that the narrator perceives in specific places in 1980s Mexico, creating a very strong sense of place thanks to her sublime language. Some of the perceived haziness may be due to the fact that I read 70% of the novel during a flight, but it seems that many reviewers agree on the general sense of not-knowing. Go in for the atmosphere and the language, otherwise you might be disappointed. I truly enjoyed immersing myself in this storyworld, but I would have appreciated a little more dynamics. I’m still not sure what the novel is about, which I find, in this case, to be one of its merits.
Sea Monsters is a mesmerizing novel. Really it is. About a seventeen-year-old Luisa who lives in Mexico City and takes off one autumn afternoon. She gets on to a bus to the Pacific Coast with a boy named Tomás who she barely knows. He is everything she isn’t and maybe that’s the pull. What are they on the lookout for? What is it that they are seeking? Well, for that you must really read the book.
Sea Monsters is coming-of-age in a way that I have rarely read before. Aridjis makes it even more great by jumping between narratives – from character-driven to research and plot driven which had me hooked. The storyline is most certainly unsettling, given the teenager being the protagonist and, on the run, however, it is the routine that drives the novel and the knowledge of how most voyages either fail or make it.
The book is about the search for meaning and what life is all about. It may also seem quite a cliché come to think of it, but it isn’t once you start seeing the writing for what it is, and more than anything else it is about individual quests which will leave you a dazzled reader. The book is all about Luisa’s choices and how they impact her and the ones around her. The writing reminded me of Lucia Berlin, Maggie Nelson, and a little bit of Anne Tyler as well (her initial novels).
Sea Monsters is the kind of book that is subtle, enjoyable, and raises pertinent questions along the way – they need not be answered though. They are asked perhaps to just get the reader to mull over them. It is the kind of book that is graceful, fantastical (read it and you shall know), and extremely eloquent. I would definitely reread it at some point.
This novel is filled with wonder and surprise. Gorgeous passages evoke a sense of wanderlust, of comfortable dislocation and a sort of longed for isolation. It’s rare to find a novel that marries the post punk, gothic influences of my youth to the sun drenched, Oaxacan daydream of my current existence. Chloe Aridjis, someone skilled in the painterly art of wordscapes and with such an internationally replete experience, deftly explores this odd combination.
Chloe has written a novel that is quiet, charming, and familiar. Because it described itself as "pulsing to the soundtrack of Joy Division, Nick Cave, and Siouxsie and the Banshees", I was expecting more of a classic 80's vibe than it gave off. I mean, hell, Luisa is name dropping all of the music that accompanied me throughout most of my teenage years - The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode! Nonetheless, it managed to unearth some long forgotten memories, running around with boys I knew my parents wouldn't approve of, doing things I knew the police wouldn't approve of, and yet still struggling with that feeling of being just this side of bored with it all. Of long road trips with limited funds, of spending evenings on the beach listening to the waves crashing in, and of falling in love with every cute boy, or good looking guy, that crossed my path and made eye contact with me. For a book that moves as slowly as this one, Sea Monsters is a suprisingly quick read.
(one of my Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2019: https://bit.ly/2SHKV5L)
I read the first 30 pages and I have no idea what’s happening (apart from nothing much), except that a 17-year-old girl is exploring derelict mansions in a Mexican town with one guy or another. The atmosphere is well done, but there’s no way the nonexistent plot can keep me reading for another 145 pages. Shame I never even got to those Ukrainian dwarves.