In the hammock: Martha Batalha’s The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao

 

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The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao, Martha Batalha, One World, 2017 (originally published by Companhia das Letras, 2016)

 

After studying journalism and literature in Brazil, Marta Batalha moved into publishing, and to California. This is her first novel. It was translated form Portuguese by Eric M B Becker.

This was another book I discovered in authors’ picks in the Guardian for 2017. The binding of the novel made it one of the most difficult books I have read in an age – at times I got sick of  trying to bend back the book. Truly I found myself skimming the edges because it was such a pain holding the book wide open.

Maybe that fits a character who is invisible in the eyes of her husband because he decided she was not a virgin on her wedding night – I just upped the degrees of invisibility. To compensate for her housewife role and lack of status – this reads more like offbeat realism than kitchen sink grit – she invents intense projects for herself that always amplify neighbourhood suspicion. She cooks with flair and invention beyond the expected daily staple and assembles a cookbook that ends up in the trash. Cooking is replaced with sewing – she sews herself into visibility by making the best clothes for the neighbourhood. The sewing machine ends up in the trash.

Her sister had vanished and near the end she returns with her own complicated story and the sibling relationship becomes one of rescue, of finding a way to be visible in the world, to matter and be of worth. The issue of female invisibility has affected women for centuries, along with shaping self to suit oneself. How do we make ourselves beyond the stereotyped role of mother and wife? How do we speak ourselves and make choices the furnish presence, worth?

Writing also has a role to play in Euridice’s invisible life and quest for presence.

If I had not felt like throwing the novel in the trash half the time, because I couldn’t keep the book open, I might have loved it 100 percent – but something, perhaps the strangeness coupled with the acute reality, the caustic wit and the pulsing Rio, the intricate and subtle rebellions, still made this compulsive reading.

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