It was dark in the centre, olive green, and its edges were lighter. I separated the skin where I had cut myself and saw that the green went down and into the flesh.
Twenty-four hours before her daughter’s wedding, Constanza discovers a green spot – ‘irregular in form and velvety to the touch’ – at the top of her left leg. She has things to do: the wedding dress to finish, family problems. Meanwhile, the spot grows, threatening to take over her whole body.
‘This extraordinary tale of sex and death, with its seamless shifts between present and past, feels timeless. Fantasy, fact? “I don’t like surprises,” the narrator says, and since the last one had been an affair between my husband and my niece, I was not feeling in the mood for another one.” Mildew, by a gifted new Latin American writer, has weight, yet is told with a lightness Calvino would have admired.’
– Beverley Bie Brahic
‘Mildew is a truly enveloping, truly original book: a book which pulls you so completely into its world that the echo of its voices and situations stays with you, like the murky unshakeable residue of a dream … Out of [an] apparently ordinary set of relationships and situations, Jonguitud tells a story of love, sacrifice and betrayal which reads like a myth, such is the scope and depth of its reach. But perhaps most of all it is her handling of women’s relationships with one another which is the real achievement … A further strength [is] the way in which the novel occupies multiple genres (psychological thriller, murder mystery, love triangle, family drama, tragedy, supernatural fiction) while simultaneously evading genre classification entirely.
‘This is a book which exists on its own terms and uses its own voice. The meshing of form with theme is uniquely well-realised, and the level of control over plot, character and dialogue is astonishingly well done. Jonguitud achieves what only the best writers are capable of. She tells a local story on the smallest of canvases, but with such skill, precision and depth of honesty that the story acquires the enduring and immovable power of fable.’
– Amy McCauley, New Welsh Review (full review here)
‘It’s a novel that creeps through you, rather like the mildew that begins growing on its narrator Constanza’s body on the day before her daughter’s weddding. I didn’t realise until I started thinking back on the novel just how much it had infected my thoughts.’
– David Hebblethwaite
‘As the spot spreads to cover Constanza’s legs with a fine green powder, Jonguitud examines the limits of what is human and, more particularly, the nature of human identity for women, which is intimately bound up with their physicality … “Why do I speak? To clear the mildew away.” Shame and secrecy are the story’s prime movers. Constanza has encouraged the conditions necessary for the mildew’s growth, and grow it does. She works in the company where here niece was briefly a talented actress (“Pain never fails when it comes to theatre”); her most recent production: Macbeth. Sewing her daughter’s wedding dress, she is as expert as that play’s heroine in covering things up, making a show. Told in the icy simplicity of the author’s own translation, the story makes it clear that words are of less use than what is concealed between them. Though Constanza is gradually covered by “mildew”, she must finally reveal what has been hidden, though, by the time she is ready to do this, neither the reader nor the narrator are sure what is real and what is fantasy.
‘A strong, slim book on the inabilities of women to speak openly about what they are to each other, and to themselves.’
– Joanna Walsh, The National
‘Reminiscent of some of the films of Pedro Almodovar, the story is both psychological and magical; the narrative explores womanhood, the female body, the complexity of female relationships, sex, motherhood, betrayal, ageing and ulitmately rot, as in the eponymous “mildew” - the imagery of which cleaves to the isnide of your head, as does her childhood perspective on the gardens of Hieronymous Bosch, like her Christian nuns’ teachings about hell; an aborted fetus she names “Rafael”; and the perfect body of her husband’s supposed mistress.’
– Valerie Sirr, Wales Arts Review, 2015 Highlights
‘Despite the great psychological weight carried in this book it is written very lightly and directly, with a sharp pen and not a wasted word, and the damp claustrophobia of the narrator’s mind is perfectly expressed, as is the release she (sort of) experiences as the mould or fungus becomes a symptom and externalises whatever it is that it is a symptom of. Mildew shares the spare, immediate, resonant writing with another of my favourite books of the year so far, Jonguitud’s fellow Mexican Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World.’
– Page & Blackmore Booksellers
‘A wonderfully shocking debut novel by the young Mexican writer Paulette Jonguitud … This haunting fable cites Hieronymus Bosch, Macbeth, travelling freak shows, torrid television melodramas and modernist surrealism. The presiding spirit, though, is Kafka. A really impressive novella, deftly translated from the Spanish by the author.’
– David Collard, Salvete