“Delirium” by Laura Restrepo

“Delirium” by Laura Restrepo  (2004) – 320 pages  Translated by Natasha Wimmer

delirium-restrepo-laura-hardcover-cover-art Somehow I missed “Delirium” when it first came out in English translation in 2007.  Now I have read it, and it is a fine novel indeed.  If you look closely at the book cover, you’ll find this quote from Jose Saramago, no slouch as a novelist himself : “One of the finest novels written in recent memory”.

“Delirium” is a Colombian novel which takes place during the time of Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin cartel, who at his peak was estimated to have provided 80% of the cocaine used in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s.   This was a time of widespread cocaine use in the US, and Escobar became a multi-billionaire.

I learned one economic lesson from “Delirium” which I hadn’t considered before.  The people who fear poverty the most are those who come from traditionally wealthy families but now are in danger of losing the family estate and fortune.  These are the people who ‘invested’ their money with Escobar.  Some of these wealthy people would give Escobar thousands of dollars, and in return his lieutenants would later come back with suitcases of money for them.  One of the main characters in “Delirium” is one of these lieutenants, Midas McAlister.  He runs a health and exercise club, but he is also a suitcase man for Escobar.  Laura Restrepo was originally an investigative reporter, and she puts her experience to good use in describing how the Escobar crime syndicate operated, all told in the voice of Midas.

“Delirium” is another of those novels where the narrative voice changes from short chapter to short chapter.  I like this technique because you get the story from several angles and with different voices which adds variety to the proceedings.  The first narrator is ex-professor/now dog food salesman Aguilar who comes home from a trip only to find his wife Agustina in a state of mental chaos, of delirium.  Aguilar earnestly tries to discover what caused his wife’s confusion.  The second narrator is the not-so-earnest Midas who is Agustina’s former lover.  Then we get a third person narrator who fills us in on the background of Agustina’s family all the way back to her grandparents.  This multiple narrative technique speeds the story along, because we don’t have to wait for one person to discover every little detail.

“Delirium” is not your traditional novel; it moves along from the unexpected to the risqué to the psychological and gives a good picture of what life was like in urban Colombia during that time.  I will be on the lookout for more novels by Laura Restrepo.

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