Missing children, wandering spirits, dead babies, vengeful ghosts, battered and abandoned human beings inhabit the world of this book. Argentine journalist, novelist, and short story writer Mariana Enriquez is in no mood to please, protect, or pander her readers or give them what they may be expecting from her.
Reading The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is like being hypnotized by a kinetic performer and you’ve to either surrender entirely or walk out before it’s too late. The less you know about these fantastical stories before getting into them the better it is. And yet here you are, I see the irony.
Women and children often take the centre stage, and their horrors are brought to the fore with the help of local legends, folklore, and magic. “It’s very difficult to write about Argentina using only realism,” Enriquez had said in a 2022 interview to The Guardian. Sure, these are political stories making incisive commentary on Argentinian military dictatorship, but purely as a sensory experience too these macabre tales detonate with black humour and fury – making one feel like they are walking on hot coals; skin melting into fire, a taste of aluminum or ash in the mouth, pain mixing with pleasure to form a never-before-tried concoction of heartache, inequity, and erasure.
The setting is crucial – whether it's Buenos Aires, Barcelona, or Belgium – the streets, parks, hotels, slums, and shopping districts of these modern cities all end up lending mood and character to these stories. Nothing is out of bounds in Enriquez’s world – pornography, pedophilia, cannibalism, possession, abuse, self-harm, et al.
Now that the trigger warnings are out of the way, here’s a friendly advice: enter with caution, but once in and faced with the malevolent spectres of humanmade disasters, don’t run. They get upset if you try to look away.