Blood Red, by Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Ponce Padilla and translated from Spanish by Sarah Booker, follows a woman in her late thirties after she separates from her husband, recounting her subsequent torrid sexual affairs with many also unnamed men and her eventual pregnancy. The story is delivered as a stream of conscious narrative; literal events of the woman’s life is mangled with poetic assertions and vivid imagery. The narrator’s trypophobia haunts her consciousness as much as her husband’s departure, and the narration is saturated with blood: leaking from the walls, from bite wounds, from the woman’s own body. The resulting story is erotic, visceral, and inventive.
The unnamed narrator at the center of the story is the point of most intrigue in the text. She is a mysterious figure by virtue of the novel’s style. She lingers on what she is feeling, smelling, tasting. It is a visual novel, lush with description and sensation, Padilla’s grasp on imagery intensely poetic. But as such, the novel provides little exposition; the only moments we glimpse into her past are the echoes of memory––of her husband, her aborted child, her brother. The reader is thus a participant in the narrator’s trypophobia, our discomfort is with the holes in her life we are unaware of, and of the things that might fill them.
One of the few things we do learn about the narrator is her age. She is a woman in her late thirties, which feels, in the contemporary literary era of the disaffected young twenty-something, practically radical. The story places her frequently in grotesquely erotic situations, with a viscerality frequently reserved for the idealized young woman. It is neither exploitative or pornographic, but instead an act of reclaiming the oftentimes messily sexual feminine for women who are in anything but their early twenties.
The story itself is abstract and non-literal. The man who flits in and out of the narrator’s life in the first half of the book lives in a cave––a gaping hole in the earth––with mossy floors and wet rock walls accessible through a front door. Memory and present entwine and interweave. The narrator is always somewhere else when she is doing something. Padilla captures the nature of memory in her stream of conscious narrative; everything is happening constantly, and one is always haunted by this.
That said, stream of consciousness is a difficult balancing act. Although many aspects of its utilization served the story, it significantly slowed the pace of what should have been a much snappier novel. The lack of paragraph breaks and multiple page chapters left no breathing room, no breaks to absorb anything; the novel is an inundation of text and imagery that can quickly tire a reader. This choice of style aligns with the themes and content of the book; Padilla does not want us to flinch away from her depictions of the grotesque realities of womanhood, but it regardless makes for a less enjoyable reading experience.
Blood Red is complicated. It is difficult. It is an undeniably beautiful work by a talented artist that asks everything much of its readers and returns little of it back intact, and yet this is not a negative. The text begs to be experienced but not considered too literally; it aims to fill a hole, but not to answer questions. The drudgery may even be part of it, despite its unpleasantness. It is a ride you undoubtedly should jump on, and stay upon until the bitter end.