Friday 23 September 2011

Book review : The Barbarian Nurseries - Hector Tobar

When I read the blurb on the back of the book, I was very impressed by the basic plot outline, which promised an intensely emotional and gripping read. A middle-class American couple have a fight over money, both storm off the next day leaving their partner to look after their two boys without realising the other has already left. The Mexican maid is left to pick up the pieces, takes them off on a wild goose chase to find the grandfather into some of the seedier parts of town and ends up in hot water with the authorities for putting the boys in danger and for being an illegal immigrant when the shame-faced parents realise what has happened and lie to save face.

The description of the Torres-Thompson household spiralling into chaos and violence as their American dreams start to go sour is fascinating and thought-provoking but somehow it didn't have the emotional impact I was expecting. Maybe it's because I found all of the characters irritating at some level - Maureen for her superficiality and wastefulness with her husband's money; Scott for his ambiguous relationship with his colleague and inability to take control of things before it all got out of control ; Araceli the maid for her surliness; the boys for their intellectual precocity and superiority. At times, I just felt like banging their heads together and saying they were all as bad as each other and deserved whatever they got !

Another factor that detracted slightly from my enjoyment was that it seemed to get more deeply involved in the outer turmoil (the court case, the racial tension and unrest in the neighbourhood) rather than the inner turmoil. As a mum and teacher, I could relate to both female charcaters, the mum, tearing her hair out when she realises that her children are missing and that it is largely her own fault, and Araceli, the reluctant guardian, trying to make the best of a bad job but digging herself deeper and deeper into a hole. The intense emotions that the situation would have provoked could have been described in much more detail as, for me, this is what gives the narrative such impact.

It was an interesting read, both watching the couple's supposedly perfect family life decaying faster than their stupidly expensive exotic garden but also for the glimpses it gives into the plight of Mexican workers in California. The vivid descriptions of the poor neighbourhoods that Araceli and the boys cross are also fascinating, as it is a side of California that we rarely see.

I found that the ending was an anticlimax and left me wishing that the personal stories and inner dramas of the characters, in particular the two women, had been more deeply developed.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £12.99

Paperback: 422 pages
Publisher: Hodder Export (29 Sep 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1444726765
ISBN-13: 978-1444726763
Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 3.3 cm


  1. What a nightmare scenario. Will be looking out for this one on shops today. Thanks for review and bringing book to my attention. @01592_katie

  2. Great review, I will give it a try and see what I think


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